Signs that your child needs Occupational Therapy

A baby’s only occupation is to grow, learn, and develop the skills that lead to increased independence and connection to others. Unfortunately, some babies are slow to develop these skills, which creates a shaky foundation for learning the stuff of life.

Does your baby need occupational therapy? Below are some signs to watch for.

What is occupational therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) uses daily activities to help people in all stages of life do the things they want and need to do. For disabled or delayed adults, that may mean teaching self-care skills that enable them to work and live independently.

For babies, occupational therapy helps with fine motor, cognitive, and sensory processing skills like supporting their heads, sitting, grabbing toys — all the skills they need to explore their world and learn.

What should babies be able to do?

Of course, every baby develops differently — according to ability, not a calendar. But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established developmental milestones, things most children can do and accomplish by a certain age. These guidelines include (but are not limited to):

2 months

Most babies can smile at people, calm themselves briefly, look at Mom, gurgle and coo, move their head toward sounds, begin to follow things with their eyes, hold their head up, and make smoother movements with their arms and legs.

4 months

Babies can smile spontaneously at and play with people, copy smiling and frowning expressions, babble, mimic sounds, respond to affection, hold their head steady, roll over, bring their hands to their mouth, and push on their elbows when lying on their stomach.

6 months

Babies know familiar faces, play with others, look at themselves in mirrors, string vowels together when babbling, respond to their name, bring things to their mouth, roll over in both directions, sit without support, and support their weight on their legs when helped to stand.

9 months

Babies show stranger fear, have a favorite toy, understand “no,” point at things, watch something as it falls, put things in their mouth, play peek-a-boo, pick up Cheerios between their thumb and index finger, crawl, and stand while holding on.

1 year

Babies are shy with strangers, show appropriate fear, put out arms and legs to help while dressing, respond to simple requests, say “mama” and “dada,” explore objects with shaking and banging, drink from a sippy cup, pull themselves up to stand, and may stand or walk a few steps alone.

Signs that your baby may need occupational therapy

If your baby is not meeting developmental milestones, early intervention with occupational therapy can help. Here are signs to watch for.

  • Difficulty controlling a floppy head, or turning their head to only one side
  • Poor muscle tone, making their body seem too stiff or floppy
  • Underreacts or overreacts to stimuli
  • Is slow to sit, crawl, or stand
  • After 3 months, hands remain fisted and unable to grasp objects
  • Difficulty swallowing or sucking
  • Difficulty transitioning to solid foods
  • Unable to self-soothe after 3 months
  • Jerky and asymmetrical use of arms and legs

During baby OT sessions, a member of our therapy team helps your baby develop strength, flexibility, and age-appropriate skills.


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