Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy For Kids – What’s The Difference?

There are many differences between an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. Even though they may work in similar settings, their role in your child’s therapy can vary. The simplest way to describe the difference is that a physical therapist treats the actual impairment while the occupational therapist helps your child live with that impairment every day.

Physical Therapists
Physical therapists are medical professionals who are licensed to help with mobility and limitations after an accident, injury, or surgery. They help patients try to regain movement and also try to manage pain. When working with pediatrics, PTs usually work with children who had serious injuries or have motor delays. It is their job to develop a treatment plan that is individualized and specific to the patient. PTs strive to make each session fun, while still working on improving strength, range of motion, and flexibility. During a typical physical therapist visit, the therapist might measure the child’s flexibility, analyze their motor abilities, and identify any existing or potential problems.

Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapists are also licensed medical professionals. Their goal is to help people function in all environments while living with their injury/disability. When working with pediatrics, occupational therapists help children develop their basic sensory awareness and motor skills that are necessary for a smooth developmental period. OTs also assist with body awareness, gross motor coordination, and visual perception skills. For occupational therapy, each session varies on the goals for the week. If working on motor skills, a common activity would be playing with play-doh to strengthen fine motor skills.

How PTs and OTs Work Together
Consider a child who has low muscle tone. The physical therapist would meet with the child and their family to assess and then develop the best plan to build up the child’s muscle. The occupational therapist would then help the child with activities of daily life that he/she may struggle with due to their low muscle tone. They will also provide help for the families by suggesting activities, games, and tips to help make this plan more compatible with their daily life.