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Occupational Therapy vs. Speech Therapy: Understanding the Key Differences

Occupational Therapy vs. Speech Therapy: Understanding the Key Differences

Posted on February 29th, 2024.

In pediatric healthcare, parents often encounter the terms "occupational therapy" and "speech therapy" when seeking services for their children. 

While both disciplines focus on improving a child's overall well-being, they address distinct areas of development and utilize different approaches to intervention. 

Let's delve into the nuances of occupational therapy vs. speech therapy to gain a clearer understanding of how each supports children's development.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) is a healthcare profession that aims to help individuals of all ages participate in meaningful activities or occupations. Occupational therapists focus on enhancing a person's ability to perform daily tasks, improve motor skills, enhance sensory processing, and promote independence in activities of daily living. In pediatric settings, occupational therapy often addresses challenges related to fine motor skills, sensory integration, self-care skills, and overall functional independence.

What is Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy, also known as speech-language therapy or speech-language pathology, is a specialized field that focuses on assessing, diagnosing, and treating communication disorders and swallowing difficulties. Speech therapists, or speech-language pathologists (SLPs), work with individuals of all ages to improve speech sound production, language skills, social communication, fluency, voice quality, and swallowing function. In pediatric practice, speech therapy commonly addresses articulation, language development, pragmatic language/social skills, fluency/stuttering, and feeding/swallowing issues.

Key Differences Between Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy

In understanding the distinctions between occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy (ST), it's crucial to recognize the unique focuses and approaches of each discipline. Let's explore the key differences between occupational therapy and speech therapy to gain insight into how they address various aspects of a child's development and well-being.

Focus Areas

While occupational therapy primarily focuses on enhancing fine motor skills, sensory processing, self-care skills, and overall functional independence, speech therapy focuses on improving speech sound production, language skills, social communication, fluency/stuttering, voice quality, and swallowing function.


Occupational therapy interventions may include activities to improve fine motor coordination, sensory integration techniques, adaptive equipment recommendations, and environmental modifications. Speech therapy interventions, instead, may include articulation exercises, language therapy activities, social skills training, fluency techniques, voice therapy exercises, and swallowing therapy.

Scope of Practice

Occupational therapy addresses a broad range of activities of daily living, including self-care, school activities, play skills, and community participation. Conversely, speech therapy focuses specifically on improving communication skills, including speech, language, social interaction, and swallowing.

Evaluation Focus

While occupational therapy evaluates functional abilities related to daily activities, motor skills, sensory processing, and environmental factors, speech therapy evaluates communication skills, speech sound production, language comprehension and expression, social communication, fluency, voice quality, and swallowing function.

Embracing a Collaborative Approach

In the realm of pediatric therapy, collaboration between speech and occupational therapists can be highly beneficial for children's overall development and well-being. By combining their expertise and resources, these professionals can address a wide range of challenges and maximize therapeutic outcomes.

Here are some ways speech and occupational therapy can work together:

  • Integrated Assessment: Speech and occupational therapists may conduct joint assessments to gain a comprehensive understanding of a child's strengths, challenges, and areas of need.
  • Targeted Intervention: Coordinated therapy sessions allow therapists to address overlapping goals and incorporate complementary strategies to support a child's speech, language, motor skills, sensory processing, and social-emotional development.
  • Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration: Therapists collaborate with each other, as well as with parents, educators, and other professionals, to ensure consistent support and continuity of care across different settings.
  • Functional Activities: Therapists may integrate functional activities that target both speech/language and motor/sensory goals, fostering skill acquisition in real-life contexts.
  • Home Programs: Collaboratively developed home programs provide families with tailored strategies and activities to reinforce therapeutic goals and facilitate carryover of skills into daily routines.
  • Progress Monitoring: Regular communication between speech and occupational therapists allows for ongoing progress monitoring, adjustments to treatment plans, and shared goal-setting to optimize outcomes.


Is Speech Therapy Occupational Therapy?

While speech therapy and occupational therapy share some similarities in their goals of promoting overall well-being and independence, they are distinct disciplines with different areas of focus and expertise. Speech therapy primarily addresses communication disorders and swallowing difficulties, while occupational therapy focuses on enhancing functional abilities related to daily activities and participation in meaningful occupations. While both therapies may be beneficial for children with certain overlapping needs, such as those with developmental delays or neurological conditions, they serve different purposes and employ different intervention techniques.

Does Occupational Therapy Help with Speech?

Occupational therapy can indirectly support speech development by addressing underlying skills and abilities that contribute to communication success. For example, occupational therapists may work on fine motor skills needed for handwriting, sensory processing skills related to attention and focus, or self-regulation skills that impact social interaction. By improving these foundational skills, occupational therapy can create a supportive environment for speech therapy to be more effective. Additionally, occupational therapists may collaborate with speech therapists to address shared goals and promote holistic development in children.


Understanding the distinctions between occupational therapy and speech therapy is essential for parents seeking appropriate interventions for their children. While both therapies play critical roles in supporting children's growth and development, they target different areas of functioning and utilize distinct intervention techniques.

Occupational Therapists traditionally work on fine motor skills and activities of daily living (ADLs). However, their profession’s name can be misleading, especially when working with children. People often get confused and say, “My kid doesn’t have an occupation/job!” What they don’t realize is that play is the job for children and is how they learn.

Similarly, speech therapy is also misunderstood. People hear our profession’s name and think we only work on sounds or with people who stutter. However, speech-language pathologists also address cognition (attention, memory, problem-solving) as well as dysphagia (feeding and swallowing disorders). There is much that both OT and Speech Therapy can offer when someone truly understands our scopes of practice.

At Tryumph Speech Therapy, we provide comprehensive speech therapy services tailored to meet the unique needs of each child. While we do not offer Occupational Therapy, we believe in a holistic approach. Therefore, if we find it necessary, we will refer your child to trusted OTs, particularly for sensory integration concerns and self-regulation difficulties.

If you have concerns about your child's communication development or would like to learn more about our services, we invite you to schedule a free discovery call today.

Contact us at (512) 898-9858 or email us at [email protected]. Let's work together to transform "try" into TRYUMPH!

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