Research Article
Issue Date: May/June 2020
Published Online: May 01, 2020
Updated: March 23, 2021
Occupational Therapy Practice Guidelines for Early Childhood: Birth–5 Years
Author Affiliations
  • Gloria Frolek Clark, PhD, OTR/L, BCP, FAOTA, is an occupational therapist in private practice, Adel, Iowa;
  • Karrie L. Kingsley, OTD, OTR/L, is Associate Professor, Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
Article Information
Evidence-Based Practice / Mental Health / Pediatric Evaluation and Intervention / School-Based Practice / Evidence-Based Practice: Practice Guidelines
Research Article   |   May 01, 2020
Occupational Therapy Practice Guidelines for Early Childhood: Birth–5 Years
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, May 2020, Vol. 74, 7403397010.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, May 2020, Vol. 74, 7403397010.

Importance: This Practice Guideline provides stakeholders with a condensed summary of a large number of effectiveness studies. It is a valuable tool for facilitating decision making related to occupational therapy interventions for children ages birth–5 yr.

Objective: Early childhood (birth–5 yr) is a critical period in which the foundation of key life occupations is developed (e.g., eating, dressing, play, learning, social participation, rest and sleep, and chores). The development of cognitive, motor, social–emotional, and self-care skills is important to support these occupations. This Practice Guideline synthesizes recent systematic reviews (SRs) on these areas of development to promote decision making for and high-quality interventions with this population.

Method: Four SRs related to cognition, mental health, motor function, and ADLs analyzed studies published from 2010 to 2017 retrieved from six electronic databases (MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, ERIC, OTseeker, and Cochrane).

Results: A total of 196 articles were included in the SRs, which served as a guide to final clinical recommendations. Case studies describe translation and application to practice.

Conclusions and Recommendations: A variety of interventions within the domain of occupational therapy were found to support the development of cognitive, social–emotional, motor, and self-care skills. Although some of these interventions are typically implemented by occupational therapy practitioners, others can be implemented by parents after training or by teams working in preschool settings. These findings should be used to inform evidence-based practice provided by occupational therapy practitioners working in various early childhood settings.

What This Article Adds: This Practice Guideline gives occupational therapy practitioners clear information about which interventions will be effective for specific outcomes. Better intervention choices mean better outcomes for young children and their families.