We take it for granted that our children will learn skills naturally, however some children require Occupational Therapy to achieve the milestones essential for executing motor skills, to function at home, at school, in public, or in social situations. Luckily, occupational therapists are specifically trained to help these children reach milestones and function effectively in their everyday lives.
Who Are Occupational Therapists?
Occupational Therapists are a vital part of the healthcare professional team who specialize in assessing and providing therapy/intervention to improve coordination or physical skills required for everyday living tasks.
These interventions enable your child to develop independence and carry out daily activities safely.
Why Do We Call It “Occupational Therapy”?
Everyone in life strives to achieve an occupation that will enable them to execute skills well and enjoy their profession. Occupational Therapy, widely known as OT, lays the foundation for life-long motor skills essential to writing, eating, and developing independent work skills as an adult.
The OT works with people of all ages and is trained to help them manage any functional deficits that interfere with their ability to learn or process the skills or information required for everyday tasks.
At The Therapy Place, the goal of Occupational Therapy is to enable the child to achieve their full potential so that they can live meaningful lives. A lot of this therapy is done through the medium of games and fun activities, which motivates children to improve their skills.
Early intervention with premature babies and toddlers is essential. The earlier a child is referred for OT, the greater the chance of setting the foundation skills required for becoming independent and achieving the skills required to cope at school.
A child with a developmental delay, will usually present with delayed milestones, such as weak head control, difficulty rolling over, sitting, crawling, and walking.
At an infant level, the OT concentrates on correct positioning of the baby for eating while the Speech therapist works on improving sucking and swallowing skills.
The Occupational Therapist works closely with the parents and will adapt skills appropriate for each child to develop their skills.
The parent of a young child usually stays with their child in therapy and participates in activities with the OT. This enables them to implement the techniques taught in therapy because the carry-over of these skills is essential for achieving independence and closing the gap between the delay and the expected milestone.
Your child will need to learn to eat independently, dress himself, use the bathroom, draw, and then develop writing skills to be ready for school.
Parents often become extremely concerned as they see fellow parents or their friend’s children developing more rapidly.
If you are worried don’t delay seeking help from your healthcare professional.
It’s a good idea to keep a record of your child’s developmental milestones such as the age your child was able to sit, crawl, and pull to standing. This information will be valuable when the therapist takes a case history. The OT will ask you many questions regarding when your child reached their milestones and achieved different skills.
Although your child may not have reached some of their milestones at an appropriate age, you can discuss your concerns with your child’s healthcare professional who will refer them to the appropriate therapist for an assessment and intervention.\
Who Needs Therapy?
The range of children who need Occupational Therapy is vast and includes:
Premature Babies With Developmental Delays
Babies with these types of disabilities and developmental delays often need additional occupational therapy. These delays can affect the child’s future ability to cope with kindergarten up to middle school.
Toddlers who require assistance in becoming more independent in daily tasks such as dressing and taking off clothes or putting on shoes. Often shoes with Velcro are useful as tying shoelaces may be difficult for them.
Everyone is capable of assisting in their child’s development of imaginative play. Whether playing alone, with peers of the same age peers, or with an adult, your child can explore their imagination and bring it to life. Find everyday items around your home and watch to see the story your child creates with them!
Children Struggling With Laterality
Those who have not achieved the skill of laterality (distinguishing left from right), may put their shoes on the incorrect feet. We always call them “bananas”! A fun idea is to write the first two letters of their name on the left shoe and the last two letters on the right shoe to teach them right and left.
Children Struggling With Fine Motor Skills
Children who attend regular schools, from kindergarten to middle school, where the teacher is concerned about their fine motor skills for drawing, holding a pen, and crossing the midline.
Children With ADHD
Children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have difficulty concentrating in class, following instructions, and sitting still on a chair. The occupational or physical therapist may provide a block to raise the child’s leg height. This enables them to sit on a chair for a longer time.
In these cases, the OT will intervene in therapy to develop the child’s control of his core muscles and improve his posture.
Children WIth Sensory Developmental Issues
Toddlers or children on the Autism spectrum often present with sensory developmental issues. They find textures of clothing or labels extremely uncomfortable or cannot cope with the texture of certain foods.
As a toddler, the child may scream, as they cannot express themselves or don’t understand what is bothering them. It can be extremely stressful for a parent who does not know why they are crying.
In this case, the OT will advise the parent how to desensitize the child to different textures or avoid them. The speech therapist would work on slowly introducing different textures of foods. This also includes ensuring that the toddler does not choke.
Other sensory issues to look out for are if your child is not aware of his body’s position in space. He may bump into people, objects.
Children With Poor Sensory Feedback
Sometimes having poor sensory feedback means that the child may not be aware that he has hurt himself or others. This is where the occupational therapist’s role is to help develop the child’s awareness of the consequence of his actions.
Children With Visual Integration Difficulties
The OT provides intervention to children with Visual-motor Integration difficulties by improving their scribbling, tracing, drawing, handwriting, and cutting. This requires the child to integrate what he sees into what he is doing.
Fine Motor Coordination
The Occupational therapist’s goal is to improve fine motor coordination skills which refer to small movements of the fingers and hands. A shape sorting toy is commonly used to develop fine motor skills for grasping the shapes and placing them in the correct position in the box.
Many perceptual skills that the OT presents to the child in therapy are the prerequisite skills for coping in the classroom and in everyday tasks. Perceptual skills involve developing the child’s ability to recognize, match and name different colored shapes.
The OT will use games in her sessions, which encourages the child to persevere when a task is challenging for them. The ability to understand and implement directionality are skills required for their success in reading and writing.
Gross motor skills refer to whole-body movements, where the physical therapist works on improving the child’s ability to use the large muscles in the torso, arms, and legs. Both the Occupational and Physical therapists improve the child’s abilities to catch, throw and kick a ball, and jump, all of which are designed to achieve core strength in their muscles. These skills empower them to participate on the playground or achieve proficiency in the sport.
OTs have been trained in Psychology so they have the necessary skills to counsel parents who have difficulty coming to terms with their children’s developmental delays, which can be evident in delayed milestones.
Sometimes, the child may become frustrated at not being able to accomplish a task. Our therapists aim to establish a good rapport with your child so that they feel safe to attempt more challenging activities.
We approach both parents and children with compassion and provide support wherever and whenever needed. Our therapists look for signs of emotional difficulties and will refer the parents to a psychologist to counsel the parents, and if necessary, the child as well.
Depending on the age of the child, the psychologist may use play therapy to assist them to express their feelings about the difficulties they are experiencing.
All our therapists have been trained to recognize developmental delays and work as a team to provide intervention holistically. These therapists work together to achieve optimal results in feeding, speech, fine motor, and gross motor skills.
Schools and therapy centers are renowned for providing a team approach and although the role of the OT, Speech and Physical Therapist may overlap to some degree, they generally adopt a team approach, where they work together in the same session or consult with each other frequently at case discussions, to achieve a holistic intervention.
This is the most effective method that enables children to integrate the skills taught in each discipline and helps them reach their full potential.
Children with Cerebral Palsy or other fine motor difficulties may require adaptive spoons and forks to enable independence when eating.
The Occupational Therapist will teach the child the best way to hold the spoon and the speech therapist works on improving the child’s oral muscles for feeding and talking.
Cuff slides can be used on utensils for a secure, strapless fit. Slide eating utensils into fixed pockets are used to help people eat without assistance.
No-Tie Stretch Lace – With Pull-Tab Lock
These kinds of laces allow occupational therapists to teach children with various disabilities to tie their shoelaces. Eventually, the goal is to upgrade to traditional laces, but this provides a stepping stone for children who need it.
Many countries aim to achieve the inclusion of differently abled children to attend regular schools. There are also schools for children with special needs, cerebral palsy, or remedial schools.
Many children who present with Autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders (ADHD) will attend regular schools and may have facilitators to assist them with integration.
A child may have a brain injury that affects their ability to carry out everyday tasks. This could be due to a genetic disorder or cerebral palsy (a brain injury that is caused by problems that arise during or after birth) among others.
Injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents may require the child to relearn the skills or compensate for skills they have lost.
In some cases, the person may require a caregiver at home, who will work with them to develop independence or compensatory skills. The OT may do home visits to assist the parents and caregiver to find the best ways to assist their child with daily activities.
We Need You to Help Us!
One of the most valuable attributes of Occupational Therapists is that they develop individual programs and work towards each person achieving the necessary skills to become as independent as possible in all activities of daily living.However, you as a parent are always an integral part of the therapy process, and your active participation is essential to achieve carryover of skills taught in therapy to everyday activities in the home and at play.
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Miller, L. J., Schoen, S. A., James, K., & Schaaf, R. C. (2015). Lessons learned: A Pilot Study on Occupational Therapy Effectiveness for children with sensory modulation disorder. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy: Official Publication of the American Occupational Therapy Association, 61(2), 161–169. https://www.academia.edu/15438696/Lessons_Learned_A_Pilot_Study_on_Occupational_Therapy_Effectiveness_for_Child
Neuro-developmental treatment association > education > certificate courses. (n.d.). Ndta.Org. Retrieved January 2, 2022, from https://www.ndta.org/certificate
Occupational Therapists: What do they do? (2016, February 23). Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/occupational-therapists-what-do-they-do/
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