If you have a child with a developmental delay or disorder, you may want to learn more about pediatric occupational therapy. Occupational therapists look at the whole child and determine how he or she interacts and functions within all the different environments that make up that child’s world. So if your child is delayed with toileting, dressing, and hygiene, an OT may be the best professional to assist in breaking down these seemingly simple processes into learnable chunks. If your child needs help with motor planning for play ground equipment, bike riding, or handwriting, an OT can help. Occupational therapists also help children develop strategies for social interactions that are critical for successful play and relationship building. Occupational therapists are great at making “work” into play, so that treatment is enjoyable and skills are more quickly internalized.
When Should a Child Start Occupational Therapy?
If a child has delays in development, the earlier treatment begins the better. The areas treated with occupational therapy are foundational to later developing skills and self-confidence. For example, fine motor skills such as finger and wrist movements undergird many other skills. For instance, stacking blocks involves picking up the block and motor planning the action. These skills which are used by toddlers are important foundations for dressing, eating, and handwriting. The skills developed for these activities contribute to later developing interests and abilities such as drawing, cooking, playing musical instruments, sports and dancing. So early intervention, even under the age of one year, is always important for children with any kind of developmental difference.
Exactly What Does the Occupational Therapist Do?
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Occupational therapists (often referred to as OTs):
Evaluate the child’s level of performance in critical developmental areas. This process includes observation and interaction with the child, discussion and review of case history with the family, and standardized assessments. Fine motor, Visual-spatial, balance, and coordination skills and sensory functioning may all be assessed to determine how these foundational abilities impact day to day functioning with self-help, play, and social interactions.
Observe the child’s in their environment, whether community, home or school, to determine how it may be modified to promote better development. Occupational therapists want to see how a child interacts with typical environments to see what changes may lead to better self-confidence and success. For example, would a child be more successful if they had a slant board for writing assignments, or a weighted vest to help feel calm with in-seat work? Would a child do better if they had a schedule to help organize their day?
Develop a plan of treatment to target areas of weakness. Treatment goals are always assessment-driven and are aimed at developing better skills in the targeted areas or at teaching strategies and the use of modifications when that is most appropriate for success.
Develop age-appropriate self-care routines and habits, play skills, and social skills. The goal of occupational therapy is always to help a child become as independent and successful as possible in all the important areas of life. Early success is the foundation for life long skill development.
What Can Parents and Families Do?
Parents are a very important part of a child’s developmental success. Occupational therapists work closely with families to insure the best outcomes. Parents are frequently involved in treatment sessions and the occupational therapist will demonstrate activities and strategies to be carried over into other environments. The therapist will keep families informed about new steps to take as their child moves through the treatment process. When a child has a sensory integration disorder, it is particularly important for families to understand the nature of their child’s challenges so they can modulate the sensory environment for their child. Parents can encourage their children and provide ample opportunities to practice new skills throughout the day.
Occupational therapy is a covered benefit under many insurance plans so you can check your plan by contacting your insurer. If you would like us to assist you with learning about coverage or if you have questions about whether your child might benefit from Occupational therapy, call us at 972-424-0148.