The OT Tree of Learning | Telethon Speech & Hearing
sensory motor development tree of life

The Tree of Life

Here at Telethon Speech & Hearing, our team of Occupational Therapists support children to develop the foundational skills they need to learn, play, complete self-care tasks and participate ion the classroom routine.

To get a better understanding of how Occupational Therapy for our children works, it is helpful to make use of the OT Tree of Learning metaphor. Much like a normal tree, children in this example need to build strong roots for their tree to grow. This solid base helps to hold up the trunk of tree, which in turn supports the tree’s branches and leaves. A strong, healthy tree will produce big, shiny and sweet apples. But what does that all mean?

The roots
The roots of the tree represent the child’s eight sensory areas, namely visual (sight), auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), proprioception (body awareness), vestibular (balance and motion) and interoception (internal sensors like hunger, thirst).

All eight senses are integral to a child’s development and daily life, and work together to create sensory integration – or the brain making sense of the information coming to it from the senses. If one of the senses is missing, the integration is a bit off and can make the tree less sturdy. Often one missing sense affects other senses – for example, a child with hearing loss might also struggle with tactile issues.

The trunk
The trunk of the tree represents the child’s sensory and perceptual motor skills, which are essentially techniques that your child develops that enable them to move their body and interact with the world. These are learned through crawling, walking, play, leaning, balancing, visual tracking and the coordination of their movements.

The branches
Any sensory or motor development delays will affect the child’s ability to grow long, healthy branches, which in this example are the cognitive skills that control language development, cognitive thinking and problem solving.

The fruit
Finally, a tree with strong and powerful roots, a solid trunk and healthy leaves will bear fruit, which in this example are the visible skills that the child learns, such as their academic learning, speech and language, handwriting, organizational skills and gross and fine motor skills.

In many cases, it is here where problems are first noticed, and the occupational therapist, in consultation with the child’s parents, will move further down the tree to identify the root cause of the problem.

“Often parents have concerns about their child often falling over or tripping, they might be clumsy or find it difficult to do some fine motor task. When we complete assessments we look at all the levels of the tree, from the roots to the apples” explains Telethon Speech & Hearing OT, Kate Beilby.

“Once we know the underlying problem, and which part of the tree it falls into, we can work with the child to resolve it.”

We acknowledge that the OT Tree of Learning is not our own concept but was presented by the Occupational Therapists at Step One Occupational Therapy for Children at the ACHPHER Conference in 2003.