The role of an occupational therapist in a diagnostic evaluation

Diagnostic evaluations often incorporate a multidisciplinary team of professionals in order to look at the “whole child” from various clinical perspectives. This holistic approach might include an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing, fine motor skills, and other key areas of development.

Why consult an Occupational Therapist? 

Occupational therapists (or OTs) work with children in all areas of their lives to improve their day to day functioning and experience. For this reason, it is often helpful to have a child screened or evaluated by an OT during the diagnostic evaluation process. The insight of an OT can assist the clinician performing an evaluation to make the most accurate and comprehensive diagnosis possible.

An OT can provide information to the diagnosing clinician by:

  1. Providing access to previous records if a child has been receiving occupational therapy prior to the diagnostic evaluation. The clinician providing the evaluation may want to see the reports on the child’s strengths, challenges, and progress. An OT can also provide information regarding a child’s other developmental delays or challenges that they have observed during their sessions. 
  2. A clinician may recommend an occupational therapy evaluation after a diagnostic evaluation to see if they would benefit from  specialized treatment in the areas of sensory processing, fine motor skills, or other related areas. An OT can also provide further formal assessments to support a child’s claim for eligibility for services.

What areas does an OT assess?

An OT may assess the following areas of intervention in order to determine a child’s everyday adaptive skills and behavior:

Play activities: these include a child’s ability to play games, complete puzzles, draw, and utilize gross motor skills, such as climbing on and over structures like a jungle gym.

Self-care needs: such as a child’s ability to independently dress, bathe, and use fine motor skills to handle utensils, pens, and other handheld implements without assistance.

School activities: including a child’s skills in handwriting, using scissors, following classroom instructions, and self-regulate during class. 

Sensory processing: or how a child moves through different spaces from inside a classroom to outside for play, such as handling changes in noise level and light. 

Based on the findings from these areas of assessment, an OT can provide an accurate description of the child’s everyday processing and adaptive skills challenges, as well as recommend next steps in the child’s therapeutic program. Working in conjunction with the results from the diagnostic evaluation, clinicians can move forward with a care plan that will best support both child, and parents moving forward.