Sunny Days Blog

How to Use Pediatric PT and OT to Develop Communication Skills


If you are a pediatric physical therapist or occupational therapist, this blog post is for you.  As I’m sure you are already aware, the more opportunities that a child has to practice a skill, the better and faster the progress will be.  Well, imagine if you could work on your typical PT or OT goals while also helping your clients improve their communication?  Talk about getting the most bang for your buck.  As a speech-language pathologist, I would like to share some tips on how you can help your pediatric clients practice their communication skills while simultaneously working on their fine or gross motor skills.

How to Improve Communication Skills in Pediatric OT and PT Sessions:


1. Describe Actions that Occur During Your PT or OT Session

Describing actions is a great way to encourage communication, and PT and OT sessions just so happen to be full of activity.  The next time you want your client to practice walking up or down a flight of stairs or using correct grip while holding a crayon, talk about what’s happening.  Rather than sit in silence after you have given your instructions, talk to your clients about what they are doing and/or seeing.  


2. Provide Choices as Part of the Activity

Going back to the same therapy examples from above (walking up stairs, using a crayon), consider giving your client choices during the activities.  For example, you could ask your clients if they want to walk outside or inside during the session.  Similarly, you could present your clients with two crayon choices and ask what color they would like.  If clients uses non-verbal communication to express their choices (e.g. pointing to the desired crayon), you could say the name of the choice aloud as a model prior to giving it to the child.


3. Incorporate Music

What better way to encourage physical activity than to get up and dance?  Just as music can be used to address physical skills, it can also aid in developing communication skills.  Children are often more inclined to attempt sounds or words during musical activities than they are when explicitly told to say a sound or word.  The next time you incorporate music into a session, consider stopping the song at familiar parts and see if your client tries to fill in the blanks (e.g. therapist: “the wheels on the bus go….” child: “round and round.”).


4. Manipulate Your Therapy Materials

If you are using toys or manipulatives during your therapy sessions, think about how you are presenting them to your client.  Many times, simple manipulations can lead to enhanced communication.  For example, if you are using puzzles in your therapy sessions, do not give the client the entire puzzle at one time.  Instead, give  clients one puzzle piece at a time to encourage them to make requests.


Practice makes progress.  By incorporating these simple additions or changes to your therapy routines, you are helping your clients make progress in more than one area of development.  Small modifications in your sessions can lead to big accomplishments for your clients and their communication skills.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash


Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP

Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP is a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech-language pathologist and the owner and founder of Liberty Speech Associates LLC, a speech therapy practice located in Hackettstown, NJ. She is also the co-author of the book From Meals to Milestones: 35 Delicious Dishes to Encourage Child Development. For more information about Courtney, visit her website at