Speech & Occupational Therapy Lingo

Student coloring

Have you ever heard a therapist use terms such as “joint attention” or “bilateral coordination” and thought, “What does that even mean?!” Well, you aren’t alone! To make things a little easier, we put together a list of some commonly used terms by speech & occupational therapists and defined them in layman’s terms.

Speech Therapy Lingo

Speech-language pathologist (SLP): Speech-language pathologists treat individuals of all ages during speech therapy. They work with clients on a range of speech-related skills such as swallowing, language, and social communication. Through collaborating with the client, the family of the client, and other professionals, they are able to  “prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders” (Speech-Language Pathologists, n.d.).

Speech: The physical act of talking. Speech is how we are saying words and/or sounds. 

Language: How you use words to share ideas and communicate needs. Language also includes the comprehension of words. It encompasses what words mean, how to make new words, how to create sentences, and using appropriate language for certain situations.  

Receptive Language: The ability to understand language and words. 

Expressive Language: The ability to form coherent messages through words, writing, sentences. and gestures. It allows one to express needs and desires.

Social communication/ Pragmatics: Pragmatics is a broad term explaining “the social use of language”. It encompasses body language, social interactions, and non-verbal communication. Examples of skills that fall under pragmatics are turn taking, eye contact, personal space, and adjusting language and tone based on the given situation or person.

Fluency: The smoothness and flow of words.

Articulation: The movement of the mouth and its parts in order to create sounds and words.

Nonverbal Communication: A means of communication without the use of verbal speech. It includes facial expressions, eye contact, and posture.

Parallel Talk: When an adult describes what a child is seeing or doing at a given moment without expecting a response. Parallel talk allows the child to comprehend how to verbally describe their own actions and understand the experience. For example, if a child is playing with a toy dinosaur, the adult could say “Oh, you made the dinosaur eat the green apple!” 

Joint Attention: The shared focus of a caregiver and child on a specific object or action. This is an extremely important skill, as it serves as an important foundation for communication.

Occupational Therapy Lingo

Occupation: Daily life activities. These activities may support your child’s health, development and well-being.

Occupational Therapy (OT): A form of therapy that aids people in the development of skills necessary for daily living, including self-care, leisure and work. Occupational therapists use goal-directed and evidence-based activities to help patients gain independence and boost confidence in performing daily tasks that are important to them. 

Fine Motor Skills: The movement and coordination of smaller muscles, like our fingers.  Therapists train fine motor skills to improve dexterity, which is useful for tasks like writing and handling small items.

Gross Motor Skills: The movement and coordination of larger muscles, like our arms and legs. Gross motor skills are used for bodily movements like running, walking, hopping, climbing, throwing, and jumping. 

Play: Organized or spontaneous activities that are fun and enjoyable. Play encourages bonding, learning, joint participation, and exploration. 

Body Awareness: The ability to understand where your body is in space, how it feels, its different parts, and how they can move. For instance, body awareness helps us to know how far to raise our fork to get food into our mouth, how far to stretch our arms, and when to grip when we’re playing on a jungle gym. 

Bilateral Coordination: The ability to use both sides of your body to accomplish a task. There are a few different ways of coordinating both sides of your body to do something:

  1. at the same time: using a rolling pin to flatten out some dough
  2. in an alternating way: patting the dough to flatten it with your hands
  3. at different times: holding a bowl steady with one hand while you mix the batter with the other hand 

Depth Perception: The ability to use your eyes to perceive how far away something is from you.

Sensory Modulation: Processing information from our environment and producing a responsive output. For example, a child may hear a fire truck outside and become incredibly distressed, crying uncontrollably. Some children have too much or not enough arousal and can work on matching their responses to their environment, as explained below.

Hypersensitivity: Oversensitivity to certain sensory stimuli resulting in distress, caution, or uncooperative behavior. It is also called hyper-reactivity or hyper-responsiveness. 

Hyposensitivity: A lack of sensitivity to sensory stimuli. The child can feel underwhelmed by the world around them and seek out intense sensations to feel better. To compensate, they might want to excessively touch things, make loud noises, not sit still, or put everything in their mouth. It is also called hypo-reactivity or hypo-responsiveness. 

Vestibular Sense: Our body’s awareness of movement and rotation through the inner ear. It allows us to coordinate movement with balance, and is important in activities like swinging and hopscotch.


Common Occupational Therapy Terms You Should Know. Retrieved from

What is the vestibular sense & why is it important for child development? Retrieved from

What is Sensory Integration Therapy? Retrieved from

Speech-Language Pathologists. (n.d.). Retrieved from 


Importance of Bilateral Coordination in Young Children. Retrieved from 


Body Awareness: Definition & Explanation. Retrieved from 


Depth Perception, What Exactly is It? Retrieved from

What Is Speech? What Is Language? Retrieved from


Who Are Speech-Language Pathologists, and What Do They Do? Retrieved from


Receptive Language (understanding words and language) Retrieved from


Expressive Language (Using Words and Language) Retrieved from


Social Communication. Retrieved from


Phonological Awareness: What It Is and How It Works. Retrieved from


Self Talk and Parallel Talk. Retrieved from


Nonverbal Communication in Children. Retrieved from