Occupational Therapy Glossary

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    Image of four young people in cartoon format


    Activities of Daily Living (ADL) - the occupations we do every day e.g. washing, dressing, eating

    Attention and Concentration - Without attention and concentration children can miss out on various formal and informal learning situations. This also affects the pace of their work and makes them prone to making errors. 

    Backward Chaining - This means that you, the parent/carer, will do the first few steps of the task and the child will do the last one.  In this way, the child has the sense of task completion. Motivation and self-esteem will increase making the child attempt the task again.  Each time you do the activity; increase the number of steps the child has to complete until they are able to do the whole task independently. Talk through the activity whilst helping to reinforce the process. 

    Bilateral Coordination - This is the ability to use both sides of the body together in a smooth, simultaneous, and coordinated manner. 

    Bilateral Integration - This is the neurological process of integrating sensations from both body sides; the foundation for bilateral coordination.

    Cerebral Palsy - Neurological condition that affects movement, posture and coordination.

    Cognitive Skills - These are the skills required for all aspects of thinking including the processes of perception, memory, reasoning, language and some types of learning.

    Comprehension - Understanding (spoken words or written text).

    Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) - Difficulties with motor coordination compared to other children the same age. There may also be additional difficulties in perceptual problems, attention, planning and organising tasks 

    Fine Motor Skills - This is the ability to move the hands and fingers in a smooth, precise and controlled manner. Fine motor control is essential for efficient handling of classroom tools and materials. It may also be referred to as dexterity.

    Gaslite Goals - This is a method of scoring the extent to which patient’s individual goals are achieved in the course of intervention. Each goal is written in detail providing an overview of the goal with an expected completion date.

    Gross Motor Skills - This refers to coordinated body movements involving the large muscle groups. A few activities requiring this skill include running, walking, hopping, climbing, throwing and jumping.

    Global Development Delay - Delay in all areas of development i.e. physical, language and communication, learning, social etc.

    Graphesthesia – Is the ability to recognise writing on the skin purely by the sensation of touch.

    Hand-Eye Coordination - This is efficient teamwork of the eyes and hands, necessary for activities such as playing with toys, dressing, and writing.

    Information Processing Skills - Taking in information, storing this information in memory and retrieving it when needed. 

    Individual Education Plan (IEP) - Specific targets or strategies put in place to aid a child’s access to the curriculum.

    Involvement plan - Is a plan written by the Occupational Therapist to support the development of your child’s occupations. Every child is different and their needs vary, therefore your child's intervention will be individually tailored to meet their needs.

    Kinesthesia – Awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body by means of sensory organs (proprioceptors) in the muscles and joints.

    Learning Disability - A condition where an individual has difficulty learning according to the typical pattern. 

    Motor Planning -This is the ability to conceive of, organise, sequence, and carry out an unfamiliar and complex body movement in a coordinated manner. 

    Modelling – As a parent/carer, you might be advised to model something to your child.  This means that you would demonstrate or carry the activity/movement out to show the child how to do it.

    Motor Coordination – Combination of body movements, using motor planning to execute movements in a controlled way.

    Occupation - The activities that your child does e.g. playing, dressing, homework, swimming, baking.

    Occupational Therapist (OT) – Work with children to enable them to be as independent as possible in their everyday activities/occupations.

    Posture – Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting or lying down. Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities.
    Postural Stability - This is being able to maintain your body in a position to efficiently complete a task or demand, using large muscle groups at the shoulders and hips. 

    Pre-writing Skills - A combination of fine motor, gross motor, visual perceptual and visual motor integration skills required as a foundation before writing letters and words can begin correctly.  This often includes use of a variety of resources i.e. not pencil and paper and comprises of shapes and patterns.  Also described as a ‘pre-requisite’ to writing.

    Proprioception - This is the unconscious awareness of sensations coming from one’s joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments; the “position sense”.

    SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) - Identified person responsible for coordinating teaching and learning needs, as well as key support services within a setting or school for children with additional needs.

    Self Care – Dressing, washing, having a bath or shower, brushing teeth, using the toilet (wiping bottom), combing hair etc.

    Somatosensory Perception - This refers to the perception of touch sensations and body position; body sensing.

    Stereognosis – The perception of depth or three dimensionality by the senses, usually in reference to the ability to perceive the form of solid objects by touch, i.e. being able to recognise the feeling of a 50 pence coin in your pocket amongst lots of 1p coins – stereognosis allows you to identify the 50p in your pocket without seeing it!

    Touch discrimination - The ability to interpret what an object is through touch.

    Visual Closure – This is the ability to identify an object, shape or symbol from a visually incomplete or disorganised presentation.  It includes the ability to complete incomplete parts of a picture.

    Visual Discrimination – This is the ability to attend to detail, noticing fine similarities and differences.

    Visual Figure Ground - Difficulties with figure ground may result in the following difficulties seen in school work:

    • Loses place when copying from board or textbook.
    • Skips sections when working through exercises.
    • Difficulty picking out items in a complex picture.
    • Does not see (+) amongst (-) sums when presented on the same page.


    Visual Form Constancy - This is the ability to identify, name and sort the same objects, shape and symbols despite differences in their size, shading, texture and/or position.  It involves seeing that one object is the same form, size or colour as another object.

    Visual Memory/Visual Sequential Memory - Visual memory is the ability to recall or reproduce a form that has previously been seen for a short period of time i.e. to remember what has been seen.

    Visual sequential memory is the ability to remember and immediately recall or reproduce a sequence of objects, letters, words or other visual symbols in the order of presentation.

    Visual Motor Integration – Visual Motor Integration (VMI) is the ability of the eyes and hands to work together in smooth efficient patterns.  It involves visual perception and eye hand coordination.  Visual motor skills require the ability to translate visual perception into motor functioning and involve motor control, motor accuracy, motor coordination and psychomotor speed.

    Visual Perception - Perception is the ability to receive, interpret and organise information from an external source into useable information. Visual perception is not related to eyesight as such, but is the ability to interpret and understand what we are able to see.  Our ability to do this develops through childhood, maturing around 12 years of age. Visual perception is made up of the following components:

    • Visual discrimination
    • Visual memory/sequential memory
    • Visual special relations
    • Visual form constancy
    • Visual closure
    • Visual figure ground
    • Position in space.

    Visual Spatial Relations - This is the ability to perceive the position of 2 or more objects in relation to oneself and to each other.  It includes the ability to identify left and right on one’s own body and apply it to objects.  The ability to understand direction and reversals.

    Visual Tracking - The smooth coordinated movement of the eyes to attend to follow objects in the environment.