What is the Difference between Physical and Occupational Therapy?


Special and general educators carry many roles, including observing child development from many different perspectives. A teacher may refer a student for a speech evaluation, cognitive testing, or a behavior assessment. While these performance areas seem distinct, teachers are often uncertain if they should refer a child for physical or occupational therapy since there is sometimes overlap between the two professions.




Both occupational and physical therapists are licensed professionals who graduated from an accredited program (occupational therapy is an entry-level master’s or doctorate, and physical therapy is a doctoral-level degree). In a school setting, occupational and physical therapy are added to a qualifying child’s plan to support their educational outcomes. For example, suppose a child has an abnormal gait pattern but can still navigate their classroom environment safely and efficiently. In that case, they may not qualify for school-based physical therapy.


Note: If a student’s occupational or physical therapy needs do not involve their ability to access their education, they may be a better candidate for outpatient therapy.


What is physical therapy?


A physical therapist (PT) evaluates and treats a student’s physical motor skills. After evaluation, a physical therapist creates a plan of care and works with students to improve motor skills. A physical therapist may recommend adaptive equipment to enhance students’ ability to access their motor skills in the classroom. Examples of physical therapy intervention may include:



What is occupational therapy?


An occupational therapist (OT) also evaluates and treats students, but instead of focusing on physical motor skills, they support participation in meaningful activities. During the school day, activities might include lessons, lunch, social participation, transitions, specials, and more. An OT creates an intervention plan to build student skills, change the activity, or modify the environment for successful student participation. Some examples of occupational therapy intervention include:



Still unsure about where to send the referral? Each case is unique and some students benefit from both disciplines.  Touch base with your special education director, physical or occupational therapist to discuss an appropriate evaluation.

At the Kioko Center we are passionate about providing the very best OT therapy and SLP therapy services for children and young adults. We serve the schools, therapists, and families that support them. We are a pediatric therapy organization that specializes in occupational therapy and speech therapy.  Our multidisciplinary, holistic approach gives each child the best chance to realize their full potential.



What Is Speech Therapy?


Whether it be talking with co-workers around the water cooler, saying “I love you” to your spouse, sharing a joke with your neighbor, texting your brother, or sending an email to your boss, people love to communicate, it’s what we do.  Communication, in all its forms, is what creates and maintains the bonds and relationships in our lives, and the ability to communicate is what defines us as being human.


Communication can be divided into three main categories: comprehension, expression, and production.  Comprehension or receptive language is the ability to receive a message from someone and understand the meaning of that message whether it be spoken, written, or via gestures such as American Sign Language (ASL). Expression or expressive language is the ability to send a meaningful message to someone verbally, in writing, or by using gestures.  An additional goal of expressive language is that it is socially appropriate, which means knowing what and how to say something in a given circumstance. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) refer to the social part of language as pragmatic language. Production is how the message is created.  With speech, we can think about fluency, speech sounds, and their sound quality or intelligibility.  With writing, we can look at legibility, and with signs, you can think of well-formed readable signs. The goal of production is that the person you are trying to communicate with can understand your message.  When something interferes with somebody’s receptive language, expressive language, pragmatic language, articulation, fluency, voice quality, or even swallowing, speech therapy can help a person to improve both communication and swallowing.


What is Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy aims to improve a person’s communication. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are professionals who specialize in speech-language therapy.  They must go through a rigorous university program, get a master’s degree, complete a 9-month clinical fellowship year (CFY) where they are under the supervision of a senior speech-language pathologist (SLP), get credentialed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and then get their state license to practice.  If you or a loved one is seeking speech therapy please make sure that the person you are considering has ASHA certification and state licensure for the state you live in.


A speech-language pathologist (SLP) will first conduct a speech-language evaluation for the client to identify how to best address the complaint.  Once the evaluation is completed, the SLP will explain the results to the client or caregiver and develop a treatment plan.  A treatment plan will contain goals and objectives that are created specifically for the client, explaining exactly what the client and SLP will be working on.


Which Language Disorders Do Speech Therapists Treat?


  1. Receptive language disorder: affects the ability to comprehend spoken language and, in some cases, written language. Individuals suffering from a receptive language disorder may struggle to understand spoken language, respond properly, or both. This makes it difficult to communicate and causes difficulties at school.
  2. Expressive language disorder: the inability to effectively express needs and thoughts by words is known as an expressive language disorder. Children with this condition can misspell terms, mix up verb tenses, and repeat phrases or parts of sentences. Expressive language disorders cause issues in social situations, at work, and in school.
  3. Pragmatic language disorder: also known as “social language disorder”.  This is the inability to use socially appropriate language.  This disorder occurs when a person uses inappropriate or unrelated language for a given context. Has difficulty turn-taking in a conversation, has poor eye contact, has difficulty matching their tone and facial expression to message, and has difficulty introducing and maintaining a conversation. This causes problems with forming and maintaining relationships.
  4. Cognitive-communication disorder: difficulty with every aspect of the conversation that is hindered by a disturbance of cognition(thought). Attention, memory, organization, problem-solving/reasoning, and executive functions are some examples of cognitive processes.  This type of disorder impacts all facets of life.


Which Speech Disorders Do Speech Therapists Treat?


  1. Articulation disorder: an articulation disorder is when a person’s speech contains one or more of the following: sound errors, omissions, distortions, or substitutions.  These types of production errors affect the quality or intelligibility of the speaker’s speech.  In some cases, making it difficult to understand what the person is saying.
  2. Fluency disorder: also known as “stuttering,” is distinguished by repetitions of sounds, syllables, or entire words; prolongations of sounds; or blocks of airflow or voicing during speech are examples of primary behaviors.
  3. Resonance disorder: also known as “voice disorders”.  Voice disorders occur when the speech signal produces too much or too little nasal and/or oral sound energy. It may be caused by physiological or functional (e.g., neurogenic) factors, and it may also be caused by mislearning (e.g., articulation errors that can lead to the perception of a resonance disorder).


How Does It Work?

By completing a thorough speech-language evaluation the SLP determines what kind of speech-language difficulty the client has and the best treatment method to address it. SLPs work in a variety of settings including schools, clinics, and hospitals.  In schools, SLPs work with children mostly in small groups or the classroom.  In clinic and hospital settings, speech-language therapy is usually provided by the speech-language pathologist (SLP) to one client at a time.


The first goal of every speech-language pathologist (SLP) is to create a relationship or “build rapport” with the client.  It’s essential that the SLP has patience, empathy, and caring for the client they are working with to help the client make the most progress possible.  Most oftentimes speech-language goals are not achieved overnight, therefore the SLP needs to be respected by the client to get through the tough work that is speech-language therapy.


Practice is the ultimate treatment for speech and language disorders. If a child has difficulty with articulation, the speech-language pathologist (SLP) will spend time teaching them how to produce the correct sounds. The speech therapist will make the sounds and encourage the child to learn to imitate them.


That entails mimicking the speech therapist’s (SLP) movements of the lips, mouth, and tongue to produce the desired sound. Mirrors can be useful in this situation. The SLP can instruct a child to make these speech sounds when looking in the mirror. Speech therapists find this process more enjoyable when using games.


SLPs employ techniques that are adapted to the specific needs of each child. Some of the techniques are:



Final Thoughts

Speech and language are essential to the human experience.  Speech therapy can help people improve their communication skills which will improve their overall life experience.  While speech-language therapy typically is not a “quick fix”, through consistent speech therapy sessions with an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist, amazing, life-changing progress can be made.


Speech-language therapy is recommended for almost everyone diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. This makes sense because most children with autism have impaired communication that requires assistance. Even those with high functioning autism can benefit from speech-language therapy.


What is Speech-language Therapy?

Speech therapy is the treatment of speech and communication disorders; thus, it is a broad field. Speech therapy may assist children with stuttering or lisps in accurately pronouncing words. Speech therapy also helps children with developmental disabilities in understanding and using spoken language in a social environment.


A certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) is a communication specialist who must have a master’s degree. That professional may work in a private setting, a clinic, a school, or an institution, or as part of an educational team. They employ various tools and therapies, including toys and play-like treatment, as well as formal tests and speech curriculum.


Does Speech Therapy Help Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder is most commonly identified in early childhood, while communication abilities are still developing. To varying degrees, the condition makes it difficult for children to communicate. Some children may not speak or have limited speaking ability, while others communicate in great depth about specific topics.


According to studies, two out of three children with autism improve their communication abilities and understanding of spoken language when identified early and receive appropriate treatment. According to research, those who receive ongoing speech treatment are more likely to progress


Speech therapy can help children with autism improve their spoken language, enhance nonverbal abilities, and learn to communicate in new ways. SLPs can teach parents how to improve their child’s communication skills in various ways that are suited to the child’s abilities, communication situations, and family requirements.


For children with ASD, there are a variety of evidence-based treatment options, including Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), activity schedules/visual supports, computer-assisted learning, video-based instruction, behavioral interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy, play-based interventions, social communication/social skills interventions, literacy interventions, relationship-based interventions, parent-implemented interventions and coaching and routines-based intervention.


Online Speech Therapy for Autism

Speech and language therapy is essential for children with ASD so that they may reach their potential. Speech-language therapy can be delivered to these children in person or online.


However, it is crucial to highlight that there are several advantages to delivering this service online since teletherapy provides opportunities that are not available with in-person therapy. Families can assure a favorable outcome with online speech therapy by considering the following factors:


Parent Coaching – Caregivers of children with ASD can learn to connect with their children by participating in online speech therapy. The SLP can collaborate closely with the family to create a treatment plan that includes tactics and activities for eliciting effective communication. The SLP has the advantage of working with the parent in their home environment. Furthermore, parents are their child’s primary educators from birth. It is highly beneficial to the child when their parents constantly repeat the same language modeled by their SLP.


Sensory Input – Many children with autism struggle to comprehend the sensory information they get from their surroundings. Changing the visual, aural, and tactile signals that a child receives increases their attention span and participation. Simple modifications, such as altering the lighting brightness or the volume of a video, may make a big difference in the quality of an online therapy session.


Use Real Objects – A common misperception that only digital items can be used in online therapy. The utilization of real objects in the environment will assist young children, especially those with ASD. This form of tangible learning is ideal for the development of functional communication in everyday situations like mealtimes. Your child’s SLP can educate you on utilizing toys, books, and ordinary things in your house to help your child learn new words.


Movement – Another misconception regarding online therapy is that a child must sit and pay attention in front of the computer for the whole therapy session. While attention is necessary, flexibility is critical. During therapy sessions, including movements into a language exercise, such as singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” while having the child motion and rock their body back and forth, helps enhance a child’s attention while also enhancing their language learning ability.


Speech Therapy Activities for Autism at Home

Children with autism experience speech and language impairments that range from mild social language impairment to entirely non-verbal. With that in mind, here are some speech therapy approaches available that your child’s SLP may teach you so that you can continue to work with your child at home..


Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

PECS is an AAC (alternative augmentative communication) method that teaches functional dialogue. PECS is a picture-based communication system for children with autism. The concept is that a child is encouraged to use pictures to ask for something and then trade them for what they ask. PECS can be a relatively simple way to begin; but, if the system works well for your child, you can add pictures and eventually build sentences. It can sometimes assist nonverbal children in developing their spoken language.  Your child’s SLP will set up the system and guide the family with how to use it.


Play & Social Interaction

Play therapy is an excellent approach to encourage communication in autistic children. Play can assist children with autism in connecting with others and expressing themselves in meaningful ways. Basic floor time is a simple but effective style of play. To foster engagement, sit on the floor with your child and let them play with an object while replicating what they do. The goal is to build a game that you and your child could play back and forth to promote communication. To get their attention, you could play some enjoyable activities like blowing bubbles or rolling a ball. If they enjoy the game, they will try to communicate with you that they are enjoying it and ask for more.


Intensive Interaction Therapy

Intensive interaction is a technique of autism speech treatment that communicates through body language. The concept is that by monitoring and reflecting on the child’s behavior, the person participating in the intensive connection tunes the child in and builds emotional involvement. For instance, if your child moves, you imitate it or replicate it if they make an expression. With turn-taking and response, you should be able to create a connection and develop an interaction.


Final Thoughts

To summarize, speech therapy for children with autism provides a means to improve their communication skills. Families can get treatment for their children either in person or online. When looking for treatment, make sure you identify a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who is licensed, ASHA certified, and has experience with children on the autism spectrum.  Your child’s SLP will work with you on developing an individualized plan to improve your child’s communication.


Online Certifications for Pediatric Occupational Therapists


In the past year, many special certification programs for occupational therapists have moved to an online platform.  You can get access to excellent professional development without having to travel, miss work, or give up your weekend to participate in an engaging workshop!  The following programs are offering the chance to get a specialty certification from the comfort of your own home.


Astronaut Training

Hone your sensory expertise by participating in an Astronaut Training workshop.  The Astronaut Protocol involves the integration of the vestibular, auditory, and visual systems.  The webinars are live and occur over the course of two consecutive days.  Content includes an overview of pathways and functions of the related sensory systems, clinical observations, assessments, demonstrations, labs, and treatment planning.  The registration price includes the protocol handbook and certification to immediately begin utilizing the program.



DIRFloortime is an evidence-based intervention strategy that allows parents, caregivers and professionals to build strong relationships to promote healthy child development.  The model is comprehensive and has an emphasis on the child’s strengths and interests.  To obtain a DIRFloortime Basic Certificate you must complete the DIR 201 course.  The live online classes are available for different time zones with early morning and evening sessions available for busy professionals.


Learning Without Tears

The popular workshops for occupational therapists have moved online!  Learning Without Tears (formerly known as Handwriting Without Tears) is now offering live virtual sessions for their handwriting workshops.  Class topics include pre-writing, printing, cursive, hybrid handwriting instruction, and handwriting assessments.  To become certified you will need to take four courses, complete an in-service presentation, take an exam and complete two case studies.


Therapeutic Listening

This live webinar will teach you how to implement Therapeutic Listening strategies into your everyday practice with a special emphasis on areas of sensory development, postural control, and respiration.  The course content includes a review of anatomy and physiology, a look into current research, clinical case studies and problem solving.  Certification is earned after successful participation in this course.


Board Certification in Pediatrics (BCP)

Do you have significant experience in the area of pediatrics?  You may be ready to take the exam for board certification.  Eligibility requirements for this AOTA certification include current certification, three years of practice in a pediatric setting, at least 3,000 hours of pediatric practice within the last five years, and at least 500 hours of providing direct occupational therapy to pediatric clients.


Certified Autism Specialist

Similar to AOTA’s board certification in pediatrics, the credential of Certified Autism Specialist is granted to professionals who have at least two years of experience working with the autism spectrum population, 14 related continuing education hours within the last two years, and pass a competency exam.  A list of accepted CEUs that are available online and accepted for the certification are found here. 


At the Kioko Center we are passionate about providing the very best OT therapy and SLP therapy services for children and young adults. We serve the schools, therapists, and families that support them. We are a pediatric therapy organization that specializes in occupational therapy and speech therapy.  Our multidisciplinary, holistic approach gives each child the best chance to realize their full potential.



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