Occupational Therapy and Sensory Regulation

What comes to mind when one hears the term “occupational therapy”? When many people hear the word “occupational” they automatically think of work. So what do pediatric occupational therapists do?  Do they find jobs for babies?  According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (2008), occupations are anything a person does to occupy their time, including play, work, self-care, etc.  With this definition, it is clear to see how occupational therapy can contribute to the pediatric population, through addressing areas of play, school, and self-care. Children who have difficulty regulating their senses often have difficulty participating in these areas of occupation that are crucial to their development. Therefore, one major focus of pediatric occupational therapy is to support children with sensory processing disorder so that they can effectively process sensory input and participate in occupations that are functional and meaningful.

When children are unable to regulate their senses effectively, they may exhibit behaviors that interfere with their ability to participate in play, school, or self-care.  For example, a child that is hyper-sensitive to touch may resist important self-care activities such as bathing, brushing hair, and even eating. Children that are under-responsive to proprioceptive input (the sense of one’s body position in relation to the environment) may have difficulty making friends because they are constantly bumping in to or pushing other kids. A child who is under-responsive to sound may have difficulty listening to the teacher in the classroom.  These are just some examples of how problems with sensory registration can impact a child’s daily activities. Occupational therapy can help by providing children with play experiences that help the brain organize sensory information. In doing so, children can overcome their difficulties with sensory regulation so that they can engage in activities that are fulfilling and contribute to their overall growth and development.

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2008). The occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and processes (2nd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62, 625-683.

-Meridith Porter, OTS


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