In children, adaptive development refers to the ability level of a child related to age appropriate life skills. These kinds of skills can be narrowly defined, such as self care, which might include feeding and dressing. However, children develop adaptive behaviors in many areas, such as community self sufficiency, personal responsibility, and social skills. What may be an appropriate skill at age 3 years will be very different from what might be considered optimal at 6 years of age. So feeding oneself with one’s fingers may be appropriate as a toddler, when at age 5 years, a child should be using a spoon for that same food. Adaptive development studies how a child is moving through the stages of skill development and whether that child needs assistance to stay up with their peers or meet their personal best outcomes.
Pediatric Occupational therapists are specifically trained to evaluate a child’s ability to perform age appropriate daily activities as one piece of determining a child’s adaptive development level, whether that would be with self help skills or play skills. Assessment includes observation and interaction, parent input, medical history, and the use of standardized tools. Occupational therapists evaluate fine motor precision, which looks at finger and hand movement; visual-motor integration, which examines the ability to integrate visual stimuli with motor control; balance, and coordination as well as the adequacy of sensory integration. These skills are the foundation for life skills, so by identifying strengths and weaknesses, the therapist can determine the most appropriate treatment plan for a given child.
A treatment plan is developed based on the evaluation findings. The occupational therapist will design meaningful and functional activities that will afford the opportunity for a child to learn, practice and strengthen targeted skill areas. Many times when a skill is hard to acquire, a child (or adult!) will avoid that activity, so setting up practice situations is a critical part of treatment. Also breaking the skill into manageable steps is often very helpful. For some children, a therapist may recommend adaptive equipment, such as a pencil grip or slant board.
A key part of treatment is family training. Life skills, which are the “occupations” of daily living happen in the real world, so practicing new skills in natural environments is an important step towards successful independence. Occupational therapists typically give specific recommendations for home practice on targeted goals. For example, a therapist may provide worksheets for developing fine motor skills or may provide directions for sensory diets. Parents and caregivers need to be committed to the treatment process and carry out recommended practice to see the best success with adaptive development.
Some children will meet treatment goals more rapidly than others This typically is related to the level of the disorder. A child on the autism spectrum may need a longer period of treatment due to sensory challenges and cognitive differences. A child struggling with handwriting issues may need less treatment to meet their goals. Parent commitment to home practice is very important, however, families should know that speed of progress is most related to the child’s level of challenge.
For more information about adaptive development and how occupational therapists can help a child develop important life skills, contact us at 972-424-0148.