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OT glossary

Understanding your child's OT


Balance is the ability to control body position while performing a given task with minimal postural sway. Good control reduces energy output and minimises fatigue. Balance is fundamental to success in almost all sport and physical movement.

Static balance is the ability to control position while stationary – e.g. balancing on one leg, holding a headstand.

Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain control of the body on the move e.g. hopping, jumping, riding a bike.

Core strength

Core strength is the development of the torso muscles to stabilize, align, and move the trunk of the body. Poor core strength can cause poor posture that can also affect gross and fine motor skills. Building strong core strength is like building a strong foundation for your child.

Core strength development starts as an infant. During tummy time babies learn to lift their heads helping to strengthen neck and upper back muscles. This helps babies support the weight of their head and look around in response to sound. It also prepares them for developmental milestones like crawling, rolling over and sitting up on their own.

Vestibular System

The vestibular system allows us to know where our body is in space, no matter the position, motion or rotation or external input. It is through this system that the eyes are stabilized when the head is moving and also adjusts our neck and body muscle tone during movement. We can help our children engage their vestibular systems by walking and balancing across balance beams and obstacle courses, riding bikes and scooters, going down slides, swinging, cartwheels and jumping on a trampoline. 

Fine Motor

Fine motor skills involve the movement and coordination of small intrinsic muscles accurately and effectively in areas such as the hands and fingers, mostly used in coordination with the eyes. Fine motor development is required for essential functional activities like eating, writing, using a computer, turning pages in a book, grasping small objects and performing personal care tasks such as dressing and washing.

Fine motor skills are crucial in most school activities as well as in life and childhood is the critical time to ensure their proper development.

Gross Motor

Gross motor skills involve the movement of the large muscles in the arms, legs and torso for necessary physical activity like walking, kicking, running, skipping, jumping, throwing, climbing and lifting. Muscle tone and strength are required for postural control, important for maintaining balance and coordination.

Daily active play is essential to ensure the necessary exercise required for gross motor development. Gross motor ability shares connections with other physical functions.

Although writing is considered a fine motor skill, it is directly affected by the ability to maintain upper body support. Students with poor gross motor development may have difficulty with writing, sitting up in an alert position, concentrating in a classroom and other related activities.

Motor Planning

Motor planning is the ability to conceive, plan and carry out a task in the correct sequence from beginning to end. We use motor planning for all physical activity. The routine task of brushing teeth can seem automatic. But our brain does lightning fast planning before we get started and throughout the process. It determines how we’ll move, the steps we’ll take and the order in which we will take them. Without motor planning the toothbrush might never make it to your mouth. Children who struggle with motor planning might seem clumsy and slow in learning basic skills as it is required for everyday tasks. 


Proprioception is a sense of knowing where a body part is in space. If you are blindfolded through proprioception you will know where to put your hands to cover your ears. Proprioception is a continuous loop of feedback between between sensory receptors throughout the body and nervous system. These receptors are located on your skin, joints and muscles. When we move, our brain senses our position, motion, effort and equilibrium and responds accordingly.

Sensory Processing

Sensory processing sometimes called sensory integration refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioural responses.

Sensory development begins during gestation and continues throughout childhood. The seven sensory processes include the basic 5 – taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight as well as proprioception (body position) and vestibular input (movement) sensations. Sensory stimulation is the way we respond to sensory input and a lack of sufficient sensory stimulation in children can lead to inhibited social and emotional development.

Spatial Awareness

Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware of oneself in space. It involves the ability to see and understand two or more objects in relation to each other and to oneself. This is a complex cognitive skill that children need to develop at an early age. The key to promoting spatial awareness in children is to allow them to explore, with sufficient risk taking, their surroundings. 

Social Skills

Social skills are necessary to communicate and interact well with others in everyday life. With good social skills we are able to develop:

Positive relationships and friendships with peers.
Verbal and nonverbal communication.
Cooperation and turn taking.
Kindness, patience, empathy and respect.
Understanding social context and custom.
Acceptance of diversity and difference.
Proxemics (awareness of personal space).
Self-regulation and coping.
Emotional regulation and recognizing emotion in self and others.
Confidence and self-esteem.
Appropriate self-advocacy and assertiveness.
Conflict resolution and problem solving.

Bilateral Integration

Bilateral Integration refers to the ability to coordinate both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner e.g. stabilizing paper with one hand and writing or cutting with the other. Strong bilateral integration indicates that both sides of the brain are communicating effectively and sharing information.

Children with poor bilateral coordination might struggle to perform daily living tasks like dressing, tying shoes, fine motor activities like stringing beads and buttoning, visual motor tasks like drawing, writing, cutting and gross motor activities like crawling, walking and climbing stairs.

Crossing the midline is an integral skill related to bilateral coordination. Crossing the midline refers to the ability to spontaneously cross over the midline of the body. Toddlers may use both hands equally and pick up or interact with an object with whichever hand is closer. By 3-4 children should be skilled in crossing the midline. Establishing hand dominance – a ‘worker hand’ vs. a ‘helper hand’ – is
an indicator that the brain is maturing.

Another important foundation in the development of bilateral coordination is body awareness. Body awareness refers to the ability to know where your body is in space without necessarily using vision e.g. how high to lift your leg when climbing stairs.

Visual Perceptual Skills

Visual perceptual skills are what we use to make sense of what we see. Our eyes send visual information to our brain and our brain in turn interprets this information. There are many different visual perceptual skills which work together to help children learn to read and write. 

Form constancy – understanding that the letter remains the same no matter the font or location.

 Visual discrimination – perceiving subtle differences in letters and numbers e.g. S and 5.

Figure-ground perception – finding the correct information in a busy background. 

Visual closure – making sense of things that are only partly visible.

Visual memory and visual sequential memory – recognizing site words and the order of spelling.

Visual motor integration – combines visual perception and fine motor. Vital for handwriting. 

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