About occupational therapists
Occupational therapists are university-trained health professionals who help people improve their ability to do the everyday things that they want or need to do.
Occupational therapists help children to:
- improve their ability to look after themselves – for example, feed themselves, dress themselves, wash themselves and clean their teeth
- take part in activities at home, work, school and preschool or in the community
- take part in play and leisure activities
- move around more easily in physical environments – for example, with ramps.
Occupational therapists might work with children who have difficulties because of injury or illness, psychological or emotional challenges, learning difficulties, developmental delay, intellectual disability or physical disability.
Occupational therapists work with children in groups or individually, depending on children’s needs and goals.
Occupational therapists work in community health centres, public and private hospitals, education facilities, private clinics including early intervention services, and people’s homes.
If your child has a disability or health or development concerns, allied health professionals like occupational therapists are there to care for your child and help you understand your child’s condition and treatment. With the support and expertise of these professionals, you can help your child thrive.
Why your child might see an occupational therapist
Your child might see an occupational therapist if they have difficulty doing everyday things because of physical disability, learning difficulties, psychological or emotional challenges, developmental delay or intellectual disability.
Occupational therapists can help with many areas of your child’s development, including thinking, emotions, behaviour, sensory processing, social interactions, play, gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Occupational therapists will focus on your child’s strengths and work in a family-centred way. This means they consider the unique needs of your family when working with your child.
You don’t need a GP referral to see an occupational therapist, but your GP or child and family health nurse is always a good place to start if you’re worried about your child’s health or development. Your GP can help you decide about seeing an occupational therapist and help you find someone who’s right for your child. You could also ask your child’s teacher or use Occupational Therapy Australia’s find an OT service.
Before going to an occupational therapist
If your GP or child and family health nurse refers your child to an occupational therapist, it’s a good idea to talk with your GP or nurse about things like the following:
- Why you’re going: talk about why your child needs to see an occupational therapist and what goals your child wants to work on.
- Appointments: do you need to make the appointment, or will the GP or nurse make it for you? Does the appointment need to be in person, or can it be via telehealth?
- Waiting lists: how long before you can get an appointment to see the occupational therapist?
- Is there anything you can do while you’re waiting for the appointment? For example, it might be a good idea to note any tasks your child has difficulty with and any support your child already gets.
- Costs: how much will the appointment with the occupational therapist cost? You could check whether you’re eligible for Medicare, private health insurance, TAC, WorkCover or another rebate. Occupational therapists often provide services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
- Locations: find out where you have to go to see the occupational therapist – for example, a public or private hospital, or consulting rooms. Some occupational therapists might also come to you at home or to your child’s school.
- Qualifications: occupational therapists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). This means they’ve met all the standards to work as an OT in Australia.
You can talk about these things and any other questions you have with your GP before your child goes to the occupational therapist. You could also ask the occupational therapist’s clinic when you make the appointment. It’s a good idea to write down any questions you have, so you don’t forget.