By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 112


Ever wondered what occupational therapy (OT) can really do for neurodiverse families?

Beyond the common belief that it’s just about physical recovery or basic skill development, OT dives much deeper. It’s all about helping individuals with unique neurological needs to truly thrive in their daily lives. From creating personalized strategies for handling sensory overload at a noisy birthday party to teaching practical ways to organize tasks and manage time at school, OT is about enhancing life across all arenas—not just teaching kids how to tie their shoes.

Ready to explore how OT is reshaping daily challenges into opportunities for growth and personal development? Dive into our latest insights and prepare to see OT in a whole new light!

What you’ll hear in this episode:

Preparing Your Child for OT

For many families, making the decision to start occupational therapy services is a pivotal step towards supporting their child’s unique needs. Whether you’re anticipating an upcoming OT evaluation or your child has already begun their sessions, understanding and preparation are key. This is crucial because when parents have a clear grasp of what to expect and how to support their child through the process, it can greatly enhance the therapy’s effectiveness.

Proper preparation can help to reduce anxiety for both the child and the parent, fostering a more positive and productive environment for growth and learning during the sessions. This understanding also empowers parents to extend therapeutic practices into the home, reinforcing the skills and strategies that the therapist is working on.

Understanding the OT Evaluation Process

First let’s walk through some important points about the evaluation process which will likely be an unfamiliar experience for both you and your child.

What to Expect

OT evaluations can vary greatly depending on the setting—be it in-home, school-based, or within a private clinic. Each setting might follow different protocols and take varying lengths of time. To best prepare:

Contact the Facility: Learn about the specific procedures for the evaluation day

Understand the Setup: Inquire if parents can attend the evaluation and get to know the OT’s name and possibly a photo to familiarize your child.

Sequence of Events: Request a detailed walkthrough of the evaluation day—from calling your child’s name to the activities like paper tests and physical exercises they will engage in.

Explaining OT to Your Child

It’s crucial to discuss the upcoming evaluation with your child in a positive, and age appropriate manner. For younger children or those with limited receptive language, visuals like pictures from the clinic’s website can be helpful. Tailor your explanation to their age and comprehension level, ensuring it’s upbeat and non-threatening.

Navigating the journey of starting OT can be a transformative experience for children and their families. Preparing your child for their upcoming evaluation or ongoing sessions is crucial and can be handled in a way that excites and comforts them. Here’s how you can explain the purpose of OT visits in terms that are both positive and reassuring.

Understanding the “Why” Behind OT Visits

When it comes to preparing your child for an OT evaluation, the way you frame the conversation is key. It’s important to keep the explanation upbeat and positive, ensuring nothing about the discussion induces fear or anxiety. Tailor the level of detail according to what you believe your child needs to know, ensuring they feel secure and curious rather than worried.

Tailored Explanations for Different Needs

For the active 8-year-old with ADHD. Imagine your child has ADHD and faces challenges in school such as staying seated, completing tasks, and interacting smoothly with peers. Here’s how you might explain the upcoming OT session:

Sample script: Explaining an OT eval for a 8-year-old with ADHD traits

“Hey, next Thursday I’m picking you up early from school! You know how you’ve told me that sitting still in class feels really boring? Well, there are lots of other kids who feel just the same way you do. We’re going to meet a special teacher called an Occupational Therapist.

She’s got tons of fun tips to make the classroom more comfortable for you, and we’ll also learn some cool things about how your brain works. This can help us make things better at home too! She wants to see what you’re good at, like drawing, and you’ll even get to play on an obstacle course. Don’t worry about a thing; she’s just interested in learning more about you. Any questions?”

For the sensitive 5-year-old. For a younger child dealing with sensory sensitivities, such as discomfort with certain clothing or sounds, consider a simpler, story-like approach:

Sample script: Explaining an OT eval for a 5-year-old with sensory sensitivities

“Guess what? I made a special appointment for you with a teacher named Michelle. Remember how itchy your pants can feel and how loud noises bother you sometimes? Michelle knows other kids who feel just like that, and she’s got some fun ways to help everyone feel better. When we go to see her, you’re going to play all sorts of games and even explore using your eyes, ears, and hands. She even mentioned something about an obstacle course and swings! It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

For very young children. If your child is very young, a straightforward and very gentle introduction might be best:

Sample script: Explaining an OT eval for a very young child

“Today you and I are going to visit someone named April! Her place looks a bit like Dr. John’s office but don’t worry—no shots or medicines there. We’re just going to draw, color, and play some fun games. It’s going to be a fun day!”

Why This Matters

Explaining the reasons for OT visits in a clear and positive way helps your child to have a deeper understanding about what it’s all about. It removes any stigma or fear associated with therapy and can cultivate buy-in. This approach not only prepares them for what’s to come but also builds a foundation of trust and understanding that will support their therapy journey.

Remember, every child is different, and adapting your explanation to fit their understanding and emotional maturity is key to helping them embrace occupational therapy with an open heart and mind.

Supporting Siblings and Understanding OT

Involving the Whole Family

It’s not uncommon for siblings to wonder why they don’t attend OT, especially since it looks so fun! Use clear, relatable explanations to help them understand that everyone’s needs are different, just like some people need glasses to see better or some need extra help in school.

What to say to your child

Explain using everyday analogies like wearing glasses or needing a stool to reach high places—this shows that everyone has different needs based on how they’re built and that OT is just another support to help individuals thrive.

Explaining why a sibling gets OT services

“In a garden, a rose might need a trellis to support its growth, while a cactus thrives best with lots of sunlight and less water. Just like plants, each of us needs different supports to grow and flourish. Occupational therapy helps find what support each person needs to thrive, just like the right gardening tools help plants bloom.”

Helping your child get ready for OT and breaking down what it’s all about in easy-to-understand terms not only clears up any mysteries but also paves the way for great results. Let’s make the most of this support to help our kids thrive!

Episode Links

Helping Kids Understand Occupational Therapy: A Guide for Parents
Laura Petix 0:00 So you want to focus on functional, relevant examples things that your child resonates with and understands and knows the specific tasks and activities that they do in their day to day life. So I wouldn't call out things like fine motor skills or gross motor skills, talk about handwriting drawing cutting....

Laura Petix 0:00 So you want to focus on functional, relevant examples things that your child resonates with and understands and knows the specific tasks and activities that they do in their day to day life. So I wouldn’t call out things like fine motor skills or gross motor skills, talk about handwriting drawing cutting. You want to highlight the fact that there are other kids who are just like your child and that it’s not just your childhood experiences this. Welcome to the sensory wise solutions podcast for parents, where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura, OT and mom to Lilyana, a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new ot mom, bestie. I know my stuff. But I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 1 0:56 Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s try the podcast. Laura Petix 1:01 Hello, hello, everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. It is still ot month here in the US. At the time of this episode publishing. And all month, I’ve been talking about all the amazing ways that OT or occupational therapy can help your neurodiverse family, I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. Obviously, I can’t stop raving about it. But for today, I actually want to talk to those of you who’ve already made the decision to put your child in OT services, maybe you’re on a waitlist, or you have an evaluation coming up. Or maybe your child is already in OT and you want to help your child understand why they have to go to OT. And we’ll also touch on some ways that you can help other siblings who don’t go to OT understand what OT is and why their sibling goes. But maybe they don’t because this was such a common occurrence that came up at the clinic siblings often really envied the one who got to come to OT. I mean, what can I say oh T is so much fun. But yeah, that was a very common issue. So let’s first talk about steps to get your child ready and prepared and know what to expect for the OT evaluation. By the way, if you want help on preparing your child for the dentist or doctor visit, you can check out episode 23. So head to the OT 23. It’s basically the same kind of template scenario that I’m going to talk about here. But if you want to go back and listen to that, feel free. So I will start out by saying that an OT evaluation can vary widely in terms of the protocols that they use, the setting that they conducted in and how long that it takes. You could have an in home ot evaluation, you could have a school based ot evaluation or a private clinic or hospital clinic ot evaluation. And they all take various amounts of time and maybe even split it over a few days. So knowing that your very first step would be to find out this information, get in touch with the clinic, the school, whatever the institution is, and ask to learn more about the specific sequence of events that will happen. On the day of the evaluation, you want to try your best to find out the following. So ask if the parents are allowed to sit in during the evaluation? Or are they required to stay in the waiting room. Ask them for the name of the OT who will be doing the evaluation, maybe you could even ask for a picture of the OT. Sometimes they have this on the website. But some like hospitals, or schools obviously don’t have their photos online. But I would ask for a picture and say that it is to help your child be prepared for the visit. Especially if you anticipate your child being anxious about this. Then I would ask them to walk you through the exact sequence and order of events doesn’t have to be very specific from like which test they’re going to do first, but just the sequence of the events of the evaluation. So for example, maybe they’ll say first, they’re gonna call your name in the wait waiting room, then they’re gonna go to a small room first. That’s going to be where there’s going to be a desk and some chair and you’re going to do some like paper drawing and answering questions and some block building. And then they’re going to move to a bigger room to do some swinging and jumping and throwing and catching. And then they will go back to the waiting room and say bye to the OT. Like just get as much information about the process as possible. Some places will have a very specific list of things. Some will be more vague, but don’t be afraid to like ask more questions. Once you find that information out, you want to present that information to your child in whatever way works best for them. So if you have an older child, and you can just kind of talk to them, you could just talk them through it and just say, Hey, this is what’s going to happen. This is what to expect, do you have any questions, but maybe you have a younger child or child with limited receptive language, or just a lot of anxiety, and you can tell that you really need to take more of an intentional approach to supporting them and preparing them for this. So maybe you could use something like a visual social story, which would work best for them. Again, the social story and any kind of way that you prepare your child for this will be really helpful if you can use visuals. So go on the Clinic website, look for pictures of the clinic gym, ask the person at the OT clinic to send you pictures of their waiting room. Most places are really happy to accommodate this, some places will already have a social story prepared, I’ve seen a lot of clinics that and like hospitals have a very specific like what to expect section for kids to see. So check that out. But try to get pictures and visuals as much as possible. Now, before you explain the actual sequence of events, and like how the evaluation is going to work, you’ll probably need some sort of explanation of why the child is going to be evaluated in the first place. And so I’m going to give you a few examples. But overall, you want to try to keep this upbeat and positive, obviously nothing to make them afraid of. And you can be as detailed as you think your child needs. And again, this is going to vary what you include in this conversation based on the setting that your child is going to be evaluated in. For example, if your child is going to be evaluated by an OT who’s like, affiliated as part of a hospital, or more of a traditional like doctor’s clinic that has like multiple behavioral or allied health offices, it’s probably going to look a lot like a sterile clinic setting, like fluorescent lighting, it’s going to look like a doctor’s office. So when your child gets there, they feel very anxious. So you might need to call that out. If they’re going to be evaluated at the school or like a private clinic, usually, that’s more kid friendly and less looking like a doctor’s office. So just keep those things in mind. So here’s a few examples with different ages and different reasons for going to OT so let’s do an example of an eight year old who has ADHD or suspected ADHD, we’ll start there. And they’re constantly getting in trouble at school for not staying in their seat, they’re not getting their work done, they’re blurting things out, maybe they’re even having some friendship issues. And you would say that probably things at home seem very similar. So you might say something along the lines. Of course, this, these scripts are never meant to be word for word, but just a general example of how I would explain this to an eight year old. So it would sound something like, Hey, so next week on Thursday, I’m picking you up from school early. So you know how you’ve mentioned that school feels boring to you, when you really hate sitting and you really just love to move your body so much. But that sometimes in class, you get in trouble for that? Well, guess what, there are actually a lot of other kids who have that same kind of brain and body as you. And there’s a specific kind of teacher called an OT, who knows a lot of tips to make the classroom feel more comfortable for you. And an OT can also help us know about how your brain works so that at home, I can help you more. So we’re going next Thursday after school to see this OT and when we get there, she just really wants to learn more about how your brain and body work right now, before giving us all of those great tips. It’s going to be a mix of sitting at the table doing some papers, stuff like drawing, and maybe some buttoning and things with your hands, then you could go to this big room that they were telling me and do an obstacle course. It sounds like you’re gonna love that room so much. So don’t worry, you don’t have to prepare anything for it. You don’t need to study. We’re just going to show up and she’s going to do some play tasks with you and move your body. And that’s it. Do you have any questions? Now let’s do an example of a five year old who has sensory sensitivity with clothes, and maybe sounds and has meltdowns at home? You might say something like, guess what? I just made an appointment for you to get to work with someone, a teacher named Michelle. Remember We’ve been having a hard time in the morning getting dressed. And you told me that pants make your skin feel so itchy. Michelle is a special teacher called an OT. And guess what she told me that she knows other kids who also feel itchy when they wear pants. She has a lot of ways to help kids feel more comfortable with their clothes, and in their body. And so when we go see her, she told me, you guys are gonna get to do like a ton of play things and do all these kinds of games together and do some exploring with your eyes and ears and hands and your whole body. She even mentioned something about an obstacle course and some swings. Obviously, then you just leave it there and just let them ask any questions, if they have any questions. If you have a younger child, you would just keep it really short. Like if you have a three year old or a four year old, usually for young children, they typically let parents stay with them. So you could say something like, today, you and Mommy are gonna go visit someone named April, she has an office that sort of looks like Dr. John’s office. But there are no shots and no medicines, we’re just going to draw in color and play some games. So maybe your child has already been going to OT for a while. And they’re only now asking why they have to go this tends to come up a lot. When kids start to get older, and they don’t like going there after school. Or if they just don’t like something about OT and they’re giving you pushback about it. Sometimes they just ask questions about why they go. Or maybe you have a child who’s in OT and they’re not quite asking about it. But you’ve just really decided that you want to keep them in the loop and feel that it’s important to let them know why they’re going to OT rather than keep it a secret. So whatever your reasoning, here are some general tips for talking about why your child goes to OT. So you want to focus on functional, relevant examples, things that your child resonates with and understands and knows the specific tasks and activities that they do in their day to day life. So I wouldn’t call out things like fine motor skills or gross motor skills, talk about handwriting drawing cutting, you want to highlight the fact that there are other kids who are just like your child, and that it’s not just your child who experiences this. You also want to tie in some of the things that the OT does with your child, or has done with your child that have helped in the past, and that they’re currently working towards like something bigger, something specific. So here are a couple examples. Again, let’s go back to that first example, the ADHD eight year old with sensory seeking behaviors and difficulty staying on task at school. Let’s say they ask you one day, why do I even need to go to OT? Why do I go there? None of my friends go to OT Why do I have to go? I would say something like, do you remember when writing centers used to feel so tricky to you? You would always come home and say Mom, I hate writing. It’s so boring. I remember that that feels like so long ago. But do you remember how it got easier? Yeah, you started using a wiggly chair, your teacher started giving you different paper. And she started helping you plan what you were writing in advance. Well, guess who came up with those ideas. It’s your OT. And you know how now every day before dinner, you scooter board and jump on the trampoline. While we didn’t have those things before, and guess who taught us about your body’s real need to move your OT, there are so many things that we’ve learned from your OT, and we’re still learning more. I’m not quite sure how long we’ll have to go. But I do know that we’re still learning more about how to make group work feel more comfortable for you. I think that’s why you guys kind of play a lot more like taking turns games and collaborating games and why sometimes she invites other kids to OT at the same time. It’s like you’re kind of in like a level two ot right now. So that’s something that I would say to them and that’s something that I often said to my older kids, I would make it sound really cool. I’d say like You’re like past level one. This is level two O T right now. When I’m talking about like they’ve grabbed they’ve like made progress but like there’s still room to learn room to grow. I make it sound like they’ve like past a certain level and they’re onto like the advanced level that usually helps a little bit. All right now for that five year old with sensory sensitivities. Let’s say that they’re not really asking why they have to go but you just decided you want to clue them in to why they go there in the first place. I strongly recommend that parents let kids know why they go places why they’re going to OT. So maybe on the way to the OT clinic or whatever. You’re just driving somewhere. You could say, hey, you know I’ve never asked you but do you Know why you go to see teacher Michelle? I would let them answer their answer might surprise you, maybe they like literally already know, which will be great. But for the sake of this, let’s say that they say, I don’t know, I go see teacher Michelle to learn how to play, or to learn how to jump, I would say, Yeah, play is a huge part of being five, you are certainly really, really good at playing. Teacher, Michelle has been teaching us that when you move your body, and you hang from things and swing, it just really helps your brain and your body feel more in control and safe. And guess what, when your brain and body feel more in control, and safe, it makes things like getting dressed feel easier for you. So you notice that mornings are still a little tricky for us. We are working on it. And I know you’re working hard to but the work you do with teacher Michelle is going to make it so that one day getting dressed is easy peasy. Then for anyone younger than five, I really wouldn’t say much. I don’t think they would be asking much about why they’re going. But I would keep it short, like Miss April helps us learn about our bodies, and we play lots of fun games with her to get our mind and body strong. That’s a perfect enough explanation for what ot does. Now, lastly, what about for siblings who don’t go to OT but maybe they go with you to go drop off their sibling to OT? And they asked why do you think it to go to OT but I don’t. The conversation will follow similarly to the examples that I just shared, on how to talk to your child about why they go to OT so you can definitely use some of those same wordings and examples to explain it to your non ot child. But I would also add an example of different brains and bodies needing different things. We just want to highlight differences among people, and not make it have a particular value positive or negative. So an example could be like, you know how daddy wears glasses, but I don’t, I’m not jealous that daddy gets towards glasses, I just know that his eyes are built differently than mine. And without them, he just can’t see the same way I see. And that’s not fair. I want him to be able to see things. I want him to be able to see all of your cool drawings and to watch TV when we watch TV. Sometimes I need a step stool to reach the top cabinet, but Daddy can reach it so easily. That’s because my body was built differently. I am shorter. So I need some help to reach the top. There is nothing wrong with me dad is not better than me just because he’s taller. Your brother goes to OT because his brain works differently than the way the classroom is built. So he needs some changes to the classroom and needs different ways of being taught so that he can get all his classwork and homework done. And his ot helps us learn what those things are. If you’ve noticed, your brother’s body also loves to move right? You always see him move and jump and wiggle. Your body does like moving to but not as much as his body needs it. And does that make him better than you know? Are you better than him? No, you’re both different from each other. He goes to OT because his differences are harder to feel comfortable in places like the classroom and sometimes at home. So his ot helps him learn ways to make his body feel more comfortable. And in control in those places. I know it looks so much fun. There will probably still be some feelings about it. But this is a good conversation to have and a way to explain different needs. And you can ask your child ot at usually this is more of an option at a like a private clinic. But there were many times when I would save some extra time at the end of a session to invite this sibling to come in and play in like the clinic gym and do like one round of the obstacle course with us. So they got to do some of it as well. So you can always ask your ot for that. Alright, that’s it for this episode. It was short and sweet. But I hope it was helpful for some of you thinking about OT or for some of you who are already in OT. All right, I will talk to you next week. Bye. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review which helps other parents find me as well. Want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT butterfly. See you next time. Transcribed by




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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