Occupational Therapy

‘No child can do everything but every child can do something’

For occupational therapists, occupation is the lens through which experiences are viewed.  They work, in partnership with the child/student, teaching staff, parents and carers, to promote, maintain and develop the skills needed by children/students to be functional within the school setting and beyond.  Active participation in life promotes:

  • Self-esteem/self confidence
  • Social interaction

  • Health and well-being

  • Fun, laughter and enjoyment

  • Handwriting and fine motor skills – pencil grip, using scissors,
  • Eye-hand coordination

  • Spatial awareness/body awareness/visual attention

  • Sequencing skills

  • Undertaking everyday tasks – tying shoe laces, dressing and undressing,

  • Using the toilet

  • Washing and drying hands

  • Eating and drinking

  • Good sitting posture

  • Staying focussed and staying on task

  • Cooperation and turn-taking skills

  • Imaginary and creative play

  • Gross motor movements – dancing, creative movement, ball skills

  • Proprioception/Vestibular skills

  • Relaxation techniques

The occupational therapist will also ensure that the child’s/student’s classroom and general school environment is suitable for their learning and sensory needs.  Advice is given to the teaching staff on the use of appropriate chairs/tables, classroom design and décor, as well as information on the creative and safe use of the school playground areas.

Both individual and group work is undertaken by the occupational therapist.  Weekly group therapy sessions currently include:

Group Activity

Facilitated By:


Music in therapy

Occupational therapist/musician


Performing Arts

Occupational therapist


Jabadao dance and movement therapy/sensory sessions

Occupational therapist/physiotherapist


Tuesdays -(physiotherapist)

Table-top sensory activities

Occupational therapist/physiotherapist


For sixth form students the occupational therapist can be helpful in giving guidance/advice on purposeful activities, employment and volunteering opportunities within the community. Assessment and recommendations for transition to colleges of further education can also be undertaken.

One of the most essential role of the occupational therapist is to also assess and target the child’s/student’s sensory processing differences.  This is beneficial in removing barriers to learning and in helping the children/students to become calmer and more focussed.   Occupational therapists working with children/students who have sensory processing difficulties will use a sensory integration therapy approach.

Sensory integration therapy is based on the assumption that the child is either ‘over stimulated,’ or ‘under stimulated,’ by the environment.  Therefore the aim of sensory integration therapy is to improve the ability of the brain to process sensory information so that the child/student will function better in their daily activities both at school and within the home environment.  Children/students are often prescribed a sensory diet programme by the occupational therapist.

A sensory diet is a specifically designed activity plan.  It aims to incorporate sensory activities during the child’s/students waking day in order to improve focus, attention and ensure that the child/student is feeling regulated throughout the day.  Just as the body needs the correct food, evenly spaced throughout the day, so does the body need activities to keep its arousal level optimal.  A sensory diet helps the child’s/student/s nervous system to feel better organised and, therefore, assist with their attention and occupational performance.

Most people unconsciously learn to combine our senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, body in space), in order to make sense of our environment.  Every child will have a unique set of sensory needs and these needs will alter depending on environment, mood and therapeutic intervention.  However, a child/student with sensory processing difficulties may find it difficult to process and act upon information received through their senses, which creates challenges in carrying out everyday tasks.  This can result in, for example:

  • Motor-coordination/planning difficulties,

  • behavioural problems,

  • anxiety, depression,

  • learning problems,

if therapeutic intervention is not sought.  Children without a diagnosis of Autism can also experience sensory processing differences.

The occupational therapist never underestimates the talents and abilities of the sensational children/students at St. John Vianney School. 


Cathi McKessy, M.A. BSc. (OT) MBAOT

Consultant Practitioner – Occupational Therapy