Commonly Treated Diagnoses–Smartmoves

* Websites with helpful information are listed under each diagnosis.

Sensory Integration Disorder

Sensory Integration Disorder (SID), also referred to as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), pharm is a neurological condition in which the brain has difficulty integrating information from the body’s senses. Sensory experiences can include sight, sound, touch, movement, body awareness, smell, taste, and the pull of gravity. Problems with vestibular (movement), proprioceptive (the knowledge of where our bodies are in space), and tactile (touch) input are commonly seen in SID/SPD. When sensory information is not integrated properly, the ability to function in daily life is affected. For example, a child with SID/SPD may be over- or under-responsive to stimuli. The child may crave movement, rough housing, and being hugged or cuddled, or may avoid these things. The child may be over sensitive to textures and avoid wearing certain clothing items. Some children are over sensitive to sounds and become preoccupied with fire alarms going off. These and similar problems can distract the child and keep him or her from engaging in play and leisure activities and can impact school performance.

How can occupational therapy help?

Providing movement to activate the vestibular sense swinging, rolling, or using the slide or trampoline

Providing auditory stimulation such as music or the Therapeutic Listening Program

Improving responsiveness to tactile input through messy play, searching for items in beans with the hands

  • Social involvement can be improved by using these and many other activities to help the child feel regulated in order to fully participate in daily activities


Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation:

Welcome To The SPD Network

The Sensory Processing Disorder Resource Center:


Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic condition in which a person has 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. This extra chromosome causes problems with body and brain development. Symptoms of Down syndrome can vary from mild to severe. Physical development is generally slower than normal. Babies and young children often have low muscle tone. Delays in mental and social development are common as well. Medical conditions in people with Down syndrome can include heart defects, poor vision and hearing, early dementia, chronic constipation, sleep apnea and underactive thyroid. Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate delays learning in learning. Because Down syndrome is usually identified shortly after birth, early intervention services such as occupational therapy can be initiated early to provide the best outcome for these children.

How can occupational therapy help?

Strengthening the core and other structures, which is necessary for crawling, sitting, and walking

Increasing play skills

Increasing fine motor skills such as coloring, cutting, printing letters and numbers

Improving performance of self care activities, such as dressing, feeding and grooming



National Association for Down Syndrome:


National Down Syndrome Congress:


Gigi’s Playhouse (Chicago area Down Syndrome Awareness Centers):


Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are terms for a group of complex disorders of neurological development. Autism is a developmental disability that causes problems in learning, social interaction, communication, and overall daily functioning. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of effects that can occur in a child with autism. Asperger syndrome is part of this spectrum and is sometimes referred to as “high functioning autism”. Asperger syndrome is characterized by average to above average intelligence, extreme focus on a narrow topic, and decreased social skills.  Although the cause of autism spectrum disorder is still unclear, recent research points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors influencing early brain development.

How can occupational therapy help?

Increasing social interaction through developing social skills

Providing sensory activities to help regulate the child’s neurological system

Developing a sensory diet to help regulate the child’s system

Providing family education for managing the condition at home

(autismspeaks.org, NIMH)


Autism Speaks:


Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormalities of or injuries to the brain, either while the baby is developing in utero or during the first years of life. In some cases, cerebral palsy is caused by a lack of oxygen to parts of the brain. Symptoms are usually seen before the child is 2 years old. The child will often have delays in reaching, rolling, sitting, crawling or walking. Symptoms can vary in severity and can affect one or both sides of the body. Symptoms can affect all limbs or can be more pronounced in either the arms or the legs. Symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy, the most common type, include tight muscles that do not stretch; abnormal walking (gait) with arms tucked in toward sides; knees crossed or touching, and walking on toes; and tight joints that do not open up all the way. Other forms of cerebral palsy can cause abnormal movements, tremors, unsteady gait, poor coordination, floppy muscles and joints, speech problems, hearing and vision problems, drooling, and slower than normal growth.

How can occupational therapy help?

Stretching tight muscles

Teaching families and clients how to use orthotic devices to manage spasticity (tight muscles)

Adapting activities to increase participation

Providing family education for managing the condition at home


United Cerebral Palsy:


My Child With Cerebral Palsy:


Motor Coordination Disorders

These disorders have been referred to as many different things, such as dyspraxia, Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), or simply clumsiness. Children with these disorders have impaired motor coordination which can significantly interfere with academic activities and activities of daily living (i.e. play, self-care, feeding). Children with DCD have no identifiable physical or neurological condition that accounts for their coordination problems, and they typically have average to above average intellectual abilities. Children with DCD can display difficulties in activities ranging from handwriting and doing fasteners to participating in sports and general clumsiness. These issues can have social implications for the child, since he or she may avoid or not be able to participate in games, sports, and overall play activities with peers.

How can occupational therapy help?

Increasing fine motor skills for school and self-care activities

Increase coordination through playing games and sport

(http://dcd.canchild.ca/en/AboutDCD/overview.asp, DSM manual, Medscape)


On this site, click on the link “Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: At home, at school and in the community” for a booklet with lots of helpful information:


Gross or Fine Motor Delays

Gross motor skills include crawling, walking, climbing stairs, jumping, and running. Fine motor skills generally involve activities performed with our hands and fingers, such as grasping smaller items, cutting with scissors, writing, buttoning, tying shoes, and using feeding utensils. Delays in these areas can occur in children with any of the other commonly treated diagnoses listed here. Children with delays in either gross or fine motor skills may experience difficulty in exploring their environments or in daily activities such as eating, self-care and playing.

How can occupational therapy help?

  • Encouraging proper body alignment for gross motor skills, in addition to providing activities that will motivate the child to crawl, walk, climb stairs, jump or run.
  • Developing core (trunk) strength, which is the foundation for the proper movement of other body parts
  • Developing hand and finger strength and dexterity for fine motor tasks
  • Using authentic activities like playing with toys, drawing and writing in order to increase the ability to perform daily activities



Albinism is caused by a defect in melanin production resulting in little or no color in the skin, eyes, and hair. There are many types of albinism, which is a genetic condition passed down through families. Individuals with albinism can have any of the following symptoms: absence of color or pink color in the hair, skin, or iris of the eye, lighter than normal skin and hair, and/or patchy, missing skin color. Albinism can also cause vision problems including crossed eyes (strabismus), light sensitivity (photophobia), rapid eye movements (nystagmus), and functional blindness. (NIH)


How can occupational therapy help?

  • Modifying tasks to accommodate for visual issues
  • Providing family education for managing the condition at home

The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation has helpful information for parents and teachers of children with albinism:


Global Developmental Delay

Children with Global Developmental Delay do not reach developmental milestones at the anticipated ages, such as crawling, walking, or speaking. These children generally have limitations in intellectual functioning, communication, self-care, academic skills, leisure, health and safety. Global Developmental Delay can impact fine and gross motor performance, social interaction and judgment, and communication problems. Some children with Global Developmental Delay become aggressive as a coping mechanism.

How can occupational therapy help?

  • Building skills in fine and gross motor activities to increase function in all daily activities
  • Capitalizing on the child’s strengths in order to allow for the fullest possible participation in all activities
  • Teaching alternative ways of responding for children who are aggressive


Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) refers to a dysfunction in how the brain uses auditory information. Children with APD may have difficulty following verbal directions, hearing speech in noisy environments, and discriminating between similar-sounding speech sounds. In the school environment, reading, spelling, and comprehension of verbally presented information can be impacted.

How can occupational therapy help?

  • Teaching children how to compensate for their processing deficits
  • Practicing tasks that involve verbal directions
  • Consulting with speech-language therapy professionals in order to best meet the child’s needs

Prader-Willi Syndrome

Prader-Willi syndrome is a congenital (from birth) disease characterized by obesity, reduced muscle tone and intellectual ability, and sex glands that produce little to no hormones. Newborns with this condition are generally smaller than normal, have problems sucking and swallowing and difficulty gaining weight, have low muscle tone and feel “floppy,” and have unique facial features. Individuals with Prader-Willi have an insatiable craving for food and will go to great lengths to obtain it. Morbid obesity often results as the individual ages, and is the greatest threat to health. Because the child affected with Prader-Willi will do anything to get food, the school, family and the neighborhood must work closely together. (NIH)

How can occupational therapy help?

  • Increasing strength in babies and young children
  • Increasing self-care abilities
  • Developing and helping implement a physical fitness program for the individual throughout the lifespan
  • Providing suggestions for management of the condition at home


Prader-Willi Syndrome Association:

Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (USA)

Visual Motor Delays

Visual motor skills refer to the integration of visual skills, visual perceptual skills (the interpretation of what is seen visually), and motor skills. Visual motor skills are necessary for activities such as reaching for a toy and securing it, putting objects into corresponding spaces (i.e. children’ts puzzles), catching or kicking a ball and producing legible handwriting. Visual motor delays can affect a child’s ability to play with toys or play sports, and can interfere with school activities such as cutting, coloring, or copying from the board. These delays are often caused by underlying fine motor or visual perceptual issues.

How can occupational therapy help?

  • Increasing fine motor skills by strengthening the hand increasing dexterity
  • Increasing the child’s visual perceptual skills through visual games and activities
  • Using motivating, engaging activities to practice activities that involve eye-hand coordination


Occupational Therapy Corner: Helping Parents Promote Fine Motor Skills

Brachial Plexus Injury

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that sends signals from your spine to the shoulder, arm and hand. An injury to this area occurs when the shoulder is pressed down forcefully while the head is pushed up in the opposite direction, stretching or tearing the nerves. In babies, this injury can occur during childbirth. As the baby develops, he or she may have difficulty moving their arm, hand or shoulder on the affected side. Treatment for brachial plexus injury is most effective when initiated by 3 to 6 months of age. In the majority of cases, babies will recover full nerve function through physical and/or occupational therapy exercises. A small percentage of these children will need surgical treatment.

How can occupational therapy help?

  • Performing exercises and activities to help with the child’s control and use of the shoulder, arm and hand
  • Teaching parents how to perform these activities at home
  • Adapting play experiences to allow the child to engage in developmentally appropriate activities as they regain nerve function and motor control


Brachial Plexus Palsy Foundation


Children’s Memorial Hospital


Note: No matter what diagnosis or issue a child is seeking therapy for, an occupational therapist can provide family education for how to manage the child’s condition.

 Frequently Asked Questions

My child’s school told me that my child may need an occupational therapy evaluation. What is occupational therapy?


Pediatric occupational therapists have expertise in creating experiences to help children master developmental tasks and achieve independent functioning at home, school and in the community. Reasons for referral to OT include problems with effective social relationships, difficulty with motor skills or grasp, sensory problems, and clumsiness. School therapists can provide intervention for difficulties directly interfering with your child’s education. Private pediatric therapists focus on a wider variety of intensive interventions.
What is sensory integration? What does the term mean?


Sensory Integration (SI) is a theory developed by an occupational therapist named Jean Ayers. It is also an intervention strategy based on that theory. SI is the process by which our brains interpret sensory experiences such as sight, smell, touch, sound, movement and body awareness. SI interventions allow us to make sense of the information coming in from the environment and be able to act on it. Integration and organization of sensory information is necessary for more complex learning and behavior. For some children sensory integration does not work as efficiently as it should and can lead to motor development or learning difficulties, or behavioral issues.


What is sensory defensiveness?


A child who is sensory defensive may be oversensitive to touch, vision, sound, movement or smell sensations. Children can react mildly or very strongly to sensory input that the average person would have no reaction to. For example, some children cannot stand the feeling of tags in their clothes, and will not be able to focus on anything else unless the tags are removed. Other children are overresponsive to sounds like fire alarms at school or sudden noise like laughter.


What is a sensory diet?


A sensory diet is a carefully designed, individualized plan of activities providing sensory input a particular person needs to feel organized and focused throughout the day. A child who is “too wired” or high energy will need activities designed to calm him down, whereas a child who is sluggish will need activities designed to arouse him. These activities can be designed for use at home or school.


Here are just a few examples of sensory diet activities:


  • bear hugs
  • playing with a fidget toy
  • jumping jacks
  • wall or desk pushes
  • jumping on a trampoline
  • wheelbarrow walking
  • singing or humming
  • smelling essential oil scents like vanilla or lemon



Who will pay for therapy?


If your child is eligible for Early Intervention services, the state covers the majority of the cost of therapy. For those covered by private insurance, most insurance companies will pay for “medically necessary” therapy. Some families choose to pay for services out of pocket. The occupational therapist will discuss payment options with you.

What will happen during therapy?

The occupational therapist will customize a plan tailored to your child’s needs. She will prepare motivating activities to work on specific skills. In the clinic, activities will often involve getting your child moving by jumping on the trampoline, climbing ladders and/or swinging on a variety of suspended equipment. These activities help prepare your child’s body and brain for tasks requiring more attention and focus, such as handwriting.


How long will my child need occupational therapy?

Because every child is different, it is difficult to determine how long a child will need therapy. Most parents report seeing positive changes in their children within a few months. Even when children meet their therapy goals, therapy may still be warranted due to physical growth and changes in development, in addition to changing expectations as children progress through school. Your therapist will always be available to discuss your child’s progress and future needs.