The Pervasive Impact of Breath on Function: What to Know,What to Do

By Patricia Oetter, MS, OT, FAOTA and Eileen Richter, MPH, OTR/L, FAOTA
Presented by Sensory Tools

Breath has not always been a focus in pediatric treatment. New information is shedding light on how respiration impacts many aspects of development. It is therefore necessary for us to take a more in-depth and active approach to breathing function in our clients with regulatory, sensory processing and/or sensory motor dysfunction.

Current study of breathing restrictions be they structural, functional, or the result of trauma or allergies is identifying associations with regulatory disorders such as sleep apnea, sleep patterns, ADD, and ADHD; as well as motor skills such as feeding, posture and other skills. Observation of respiratory patterns leads to a better understanding of development and sensory motor outcomes. Identifying where 3-dimensional rib cage expansion, i.e. breath, is restricted (diaphragm, upper chest, neck, mouth, nose) provides clues to function and is a foundational focus for treatment. Rate, depth, rhythm and gradation are required for attention, self-regulation, endurance, postural control, eating, voicing for speech, and many other development achievements.

This workshop will emphasize the process of respiratory development, from in utero on, as it relates to typical and atypical sensory processing, and sensory motor processing and development. We will discuss how this applies to assessment and treatment of pediatric clients with varied diagnoses. Using lectures, slides, & videos, we will explore assessment and treatment options to address various dysfunctional respiratory patterns.

Audience: OT, PT, SLP, interested others


Participants will be able to:

  1. Discuss the way breath impacts regulation, sleep, feeding and eating, postural control, communication and cognition.
  2. Identify the markers of respiratory dysfunction in breathing patterns.
  3. Describe treatment strategies for at least 3 to 4 dysfunctional respiratory patterns.

Three contact hours will be awarded upon successful completion of this course.

About Patricia Oetter, MS, OT, FAOTA

  • Master’s degree in Special Education
  • 40+ years working in schools, hospitals, camp and private practice; consultant
  • Co-author and contributor to professional books, and articles
  • International instructor on topics related to sensory integration, development

About Eileen Richter, MA, OT, FAOTA

  •  Master of Public Health degree in Maternal & Child Health
  • 40+ years working in schools, hospitals, camp and private practice
  • Co-author and contributor to professional books, articles and research
  • International instructor on topics related to sensory integration, development

About the Course


This lecture describes the relationship between development of human functions and respiration that starts in utero. The pervasiveness of this interdependence is seen in the variety of functional behaviors that effect respiration and vice versa in both typical and atypical development. Some of the critical functions discussed include oral motor, feeding/eating, sleeping, self-regulation, posture, cognition and communication.

Respiratory Mechanics and Development 

An overview of the neurology and biomechanics of respiration provides a basis for evaluating function on many levels. Emphasis in this session is to understand the interconnection between respiratory mechanics and posture and the how progression of infant/child development impacts and is impacted by respiratory development. 

Assessment of Respiratory Function

We will be assessing respiration from a functional standpoint using video and photo examples related to suck/swallow/breath organization, postural patterns, and variety of respiratory patterns. A video case will be included with a structure to record observations and treatment strategies.

Treatment for Atypical Respiration

Treatment objectives and strategies will be discussed and demonstrated including three “Before and After” cases. For example: an infant with feeding/sleeping problems; a 12 month old with sensory motor delays and a 10 year old with multiple atypical oral, postural and respiratory issues. Numerous treatment examples will be provided for dynamic surfaces, blowing/sound play, heavy work/antigravity strategies and environmental accommodations. 

Course curriculum

  • 1


    • Welcome to Breath ONLINE

  • 2

    Module 1 - The Role of Respiration in Development: Fetal Development to Function

    • About This Module

    • Worksheet

    • References and Bibliography

    • Appendix

    • Video: The Role of Respiration in Development – Fetal Development to Function

  • 3

    Module 2 - Respiratory Mechanisms: Neuroanatomical / Structural / Functional Processes

    • About This Module

    • Worksheet

    • Video: Respiratory Mechanisms – Neuroanatomical / Structural / Functional Processes

  • 4

    Module 3 - Assessment and Treatment: Observation, Principles, Considerations

    • About This Module

    • Worksheet

    • Video: Assessment and Treatment – Observation, Principles, Considerations

  • 5

    Module 4 - Treatment: Objectives, Cases, Strategies

    • About This Module

    • Worksheet

    • Video: Treatment – Objectives, Cases, Strategies

  • 6


    • Quiz: The Pervasive Impact of Breath on Function

    • Course Evaluation