Occupational Therapy vs Speech Therapy: Where Do They Differ?

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One of the best rewards a parent could get is witnessing their children accomplish important daily milestones.

It is their job to assist them as they try to overcome challenges and obstacles, even if that means seeking professional advice and help to make daily tasks a bit easier.

While therapy options are endless, which one should you choose?

When it comes down to occupational therapy vs speech therapy, the overlap becomes too technical and tricky for even adults to grasp fully.

Are you struggling to identify which type of therapy best suits your child’s needs?

We’ll help you clear the confusion and learn more about both, where these things coincide, and where they differ.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Not to be confused with the term “occupation,” occupational therapy does not really involve one’s job or employment per se.

Rather, it is a holistic approach to improving one’s overall quality of life.

Through professional and sometimes medical intervention, occupational therapists assist patients in regaining autonomy and independence.

They do these by providing patients with the means to better tackle basic life skills on their own.

It may be through supporting patients as they complete daily activities such as getting dressed, bathing, eating, writing, or even going to work, school, and sports-related events.

For those with a disability, injury, illness, or disorder, occupational therapists can help them recover and develop skills to overcome behavioral, sensory, or learning problems.

Although it sounds daunting, occupational therapy is nothing more than scientifically proven exercises, devices, and assistive technologies designed to help the patient adapt to an otherwise overwhelming and difficult life.

Who Might Benefit From Occupational Therapy?

Generally speaking, occupational therapy has been recently implemented as part of rehabilitation treatment plans for children with post-traumatic brain injury or stroke.

It has also been recommended for patients diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, chronic illnesses, and other intellectual or cognitive disabilities.

That said, occupational therapists could also help your child outside medical settings.

Many schools, counseling centers, and guidance professionals have been keen on incorporating occupational therapy within their programs.

As a parent, noticing where your child is struggling in their day-to-day routine or everyday activities can help you determine whether or not they may benefit from sessions with an occupational therapist.

Some common signs cannot be disregarded, even if they vary from child to child. It would be wise to keep an eye out for the following:

  • Any difficulties in coordination, balance, and fine motor skills
  • Delayed or missing developmental milestones
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Lack of social skills
how questions for speech therapy

What Is Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy or speech-language pathology is a healthcare profession involving the assessment, treatment, and prevention of communication or swallowing impairments.

It’s pretty common to encounter language barriers and speech disorders as a child.

These could include difficulty understanding spoken words or other speech-related issues like reading and writing.

With the help of speech therapy, professionals, particularly speech-language pathologists, can guide the developing child to improve their ability to communicate.

Through a series of age-appropriate interventions, the patient will be able to better express themselves verbally.

Speech-language therapy is mostly seen in educational or learning environments like schools.

It is also widespread in a variety of settings, such as long-term care facilities, community institutions, and even private practices or clinics.

Taking each child as a separate case and depending on their specific needs, the speech-language pathologist will employ a set of kid-friendly methods to target areas that need improvement.

Books, pictures, interactive objects, and toys will all assist the child in overcoming any communication, speech, fluency, or swallowing challenge.

Who Might Benefit from Speech Language Pathology?

It’s true; not all children develop at the same pace, especially when it comes to speech or language milestones.

Speech delays and fluency issues may be a normal transition phase.

That said, if you are worried about your child’s stutter or general voice issues, you can always contact your healthcare provider for advice.

Typically, patients who seek help from speech pathologists have issues with either speech fluency, articulation, or resonance.

These differ depending on the age and developmental stage of the child.

However, noticing common signs manifesting in your child as soon as possible will help make the intervention more effective.

Whether it’s a congenital language disorder, hearing impairment, voice disorder, or simply developmental delay due to injury, signs would include:

  • Stutters and incoherent speech or incomplete words
  • Difficulty in pronunciation of specific sounds
  • Problems with language processing, memory, and reading comprehension
  • Mumbling, inconsistent intonation, issues with pitch

Occupational Therapy vs Speech Therapy

With many confounding characteristics, distinguishing what sets speech therapy and occupational therapy apart comes down to their main therapeutic focus.

While both happen to be rehab therapy professions, their treatment approaches are quite distinct.

Occupational therapists often provide care to patients with a big-picture perspective in mind.

By addressing the issues as an interrelated whole, occupational therapy will employ a wide variety of adaptive equipment to help the child gain agency over their entire life.

That is, most occupational therapy treatment plans will target various areas of a patient’s everyday life, including:

  • Cognitive skills
  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Behavioral skills
  • Sensory integration skills
  • General mental health of the child

In contrast, the therapeutic focus of most language therapists will mostly be targeted to children who have issues mainly with communication and speech.

These include a variety of patients suffering from fluency disorders, receptive disorders, and even general expressive disorders.

Ultimately, the primary goal of the therapy sessions will be improving oral motor skills and enhancing vocabulary and speech literacy.

At the same time, it will also focus on promoting social communication and critical thinking.

Therapy activities will include swallowing exercises, articulation therapy, as well as the use of augmentative and alternative communication technology.

Can Your Child Benefit From Both Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy?

Despite taking on different therapeutic approaches and tackling different issues, both therapy types are linked by a common thread—to provide children with optimal patient care.

Regardless of the type of therapy, overlap in special equipment and approaches will occur to some extent, making children suitable in some instances to receive both treatment options.

It is the responsibility of both occupational and speech therapists to properly assess and evaluate patients to correctly identify the issues.

It is also a common obligation to not only plan out research-proven therapy interventions but also monitor patient progress and treatment effectiveness.

This way, they can better optimize outcomes for patients.

Most importantly, the entire rehab therapy team should take on the role of ensuring the child’s caregivers or parents have proper family education.

Treatment must be consistent. It should not only be in clinical settings but also through the right patient home environment so the child will truly benefit.

With all these concurring responsibilities and roles, it is possible for both types of therapy to be given in conjunction.

One would support the other, especially in children with comorbid and multifactorial disorders.

For instance, by adjusting posture through occupational therapy, swallowing issues and eating difficulties could be alleviated, thus assisting speech therapy.

Speech Therapy Tools for Additional Support

Medically designed tools have been developed and produced to serve children with speech or occupational difficulties.

They make the child’s and parent’s lives easier, even if that’s only alleviating the stress of the otherwise trivial everyday task.

To assist with your kid’s speech therapy, here are two of the best tools you can use:

1. TalkTools Sensi Therapist Kit

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The TalkTools Sensi Therapist Kit’s functions align with oral motor therapy techniques.

Through its unique and newly updated design features, it can help improve swallowing and also enhance jaw strength and coordination.

Similar to any sensory tool, this kit is a scientifically tested therapy tool and can effectively help parents improve their child’s sensory skills, feeding, and speech.

2. ARK’s Z-Vibe Sensory Oral Motor Kit

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The ARK’s Z-Vibe Kit is a great therapeutic tool with various adjustable tips. Each one was uniquely designed with patients suffering from oral motor deficiencies in mind.

They not only help integrate sensory information but also understand stimuli coming from their senses.

If you have never used a sensory tool before, there is no need to worry.

This kit comes with an additional exercise book filled with expert tips and speech therapy ideas to get you started.

Get Your Child the Assistance They Need!

As a parent, it can be hard to determine the appropriate time to seek professional help when your child is struggling to meet milestones.

Plus, with so many overlapping opportunities at your disposal, it’s only natural to be confused and overwhelmed.

Occupational therapy vs speech therapy is a debate most parents find themselves facing when trying to decide what treatment strategy will most benefit their child’s needs.

We’ve just shown you how similar and unique each of them is and also where they may differ.

While this may help with your decision, at the end of the day, everyone agrees that no child is like the other.

Don’t worry too much about minor delays but stay wary of consistent signs. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask professional therapists for help!