Pediatric Occupational Therapy

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Duke occupational therapists help infants, children, and young adults recover from injury and illness. We evaluate your child's needs and create a treatment plan designed to improve physical, developmental, emotional, and cognitive skills. Our goal is to help your child or young adult achieve the best possible performance for all the activities they need and want to do at home, at school, and in the community.

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How Pediatric Occupational Therapists Help

We Help Your Child Build Success
Duke pediatric occupational therapists help children build success with self-care tasks, school tasks, play and leisure, and community participation. These activities include dressing and eating, drawing, writing, and playing with friends or on the playground. In our outpatient clinics and in the hospital, we work with your child to develop their:

  • Motor planning and coordination skills
  • Social and play skills
  • Cognitive and executive functioning skills
  • Feeding skills for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children with oral motor and sensory-based feeding difficulties
  • Sensory processing and sensory integration skills
  • Visual motor and visual perceptual skills
  • Self-regulation skills

Our services also include:

We Consider the Whole Child
This includes your child’s strengths and abilities. We use our knowledge of child development to help children improve their skills, educate parents and caregivers on strategies for home, and make recommendations for ways to change the environment or activity to better suit your child’s needs.

We Strive for the Gold Standard
Duke pediatric occupational therapists strive for the gold standard in credentialing, continuing education, compliance, and safety. In addition to licensure requirements and Occupational Therapy Practice Act guidelines, many of our occupational therapists are board-certified and have specialty certifications in pediatric areas.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

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Outpatient Care

Comprehensive Evaluation
The first visit to an occupational therapist is an evaluation to identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses and to determine if and how well your child can perform daily tasks. The evaluation includes observation, testing, and interviews with parents and children to determine what support is needed.

Your Child's Care Team
The evaluating therapist may see your child for treatment, or a different therapist may become your child’s primary provider. That depends on what your child needs, the OT’s availability, and expertise. Because Duke University Hospital is a teaching hospital, occupational therapy students and volunteers may be part of your child’s care, with your permission. They are closely supervised by their clinical instructors. 

Identifying Goals for Treatment
If occupational therapist services are recommended, we work with your family to identify potential goals and a schedule for visits. Treatments take place in several spaces in our therapy locations, including private exam rooms, open sensory-rich play spaces, a full kitchen, and a heated therapy pool. 

Treatments Are Modified to Support Skills
Your child’s treatments will be modified to support sensory processing skills, feeding skills, social-emotional and cognitive skills, and gross, fine, and visual motor skills. 

Therapy Supports Specific Goals
Visits will be scheduled with a defined beginning and end to treatment. This approach is called "episodic care" and allows therapy to focus on specific goals and tools for home. Research indicates that this approach helps your child do well and reduces “therapy fatigue” for children who see multiple providers.

Best Children's Hospital in NC

Duke Children's Hospital & Health Center is proud to be nationally ranked in 10 pediatric specialties.

In-Hospital Care

We provide occupational therapy services to children from birth to early adulthood who are in the hospital for conditions that require intensive or complex care. We work with children hospitalized after trauma, illness, surgery, or other medical concerns. Often these children are being treated for a range of conditions by specialists in neonatology, cardiology, oncology, neurology, neurosurgery, organ transplantation, orthopaedics, and more.

Evaluation and Treatment
Our hospital-based occupational therapists complete evaluations and treatments in hospital rooms and in our hospital therapy gym. Our goal is to help your child recover and engage in these daily activities and improve their skills, such as:

  • Self-care
  • Upper body strength and endurance
  • Fine and visual motor skills
  • Oral feeding
  • Developmental play skills, and other meaningful activities

A Team Approach to Your Child’s Care
We work closely with your child’s medical team, physical and speech therapists, child life staff, and nursing to provide well-rounded and comprehensive rehabilitation. We also involve families and caregivers in treatment sessions and provide detailed training and discharge education.

Occupational Therapy for Hospitalized Infants

Neonatal occupational therapists work with newborns and infants in Duke Health’s Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), transitional care nurseries, and special care nurseries.

Our neonatal occupational therapists implement neuroprotective strategies for our preterm infants and advocate for optimal external sensory environments throughout your infant’s NICU stay.

Certified in Neonatal Touch and Massage
Our neonatal occupational therapists are certified in neonatal touch and massage and are trained in techniques to support breast- and bottle-feeding progress. We work with your child’s medical team, speech and physical therapists, respiratory therapists, social workers, bedside nurses, and nurse practitioners to provide your infant with the best possible care.

This page was medically reviewed on 02/06/2023 by