Occupational therapy is a profession that constantly flies under the radar. Therefore, its benefits are largely understated. Most people don’t fully understand the scope of occupational therapy until they themselves or someone close to them works with a therapist. Occupational therapy can make such a huge impact on an individual’s life, it is important to understand it well.
Occupational therapists (OT’s) work with individuals who have been impacted by a medical condition or accident in order to help them achieve independence with their activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs are the every day occupations that a person engages in on the daily. OT’s can work in different settings such as schools, hospitals, home health, and skilled nursing facilities. OT’s can work with individuals from birth to old age but, for the purpose of this post lets focus on how OT’s can help your child.
OT’s work with children to provide skilled interventions that target skill areas that affect a child’s development. Skill areas such as: fine motor, gross motor, cognition, sensory processing, balance, and coordination. Children struggling with reaching developmental milestones can work with an OT in order to identify and target the skill areas that are affecting their developmental growth. In conclusion, OT’s work with children in order to strengthen the factors that lead to proper development. Below is a brief description often targeted by OT’s during intervention.
Fine motor skills are the ability to coordinate the smalls muscles that control the hands and fingers, also known as manual dexterity. Fine motor skills are needed every day to perform self-care tasks and manipulate objects. A child with decreased fine motor skills will demonstrate difficulties with tasks such as opening/closing clothing fasteners, using scissors, handling utensils for eating, and even handwriting. Factors that affect fine motor skills in children often include limited range of motion, muscle weakness, and decreased coordination. For school age children poor fine motor skills can also affect their self-esteem as they can struggle with classroom related tasks.
Gross motor skills are the ability to use the large muscles of the body to perform tasks such as running, walking, and jumping. These core muscles provide you the ability to complete tasks such as sitting upright, catching and kicking a ball, and dancing. Children with poor gross motor skills can struggle to reach developmental milestones leading them to demonstrate effects in other areas such as poor balance, lack of coordination, increased clumsiness or fatigue, and generalized weakness.
Sensory processing is the ability to efficiently integrate the information provided to you by your environment. Children with sensory processing difficulties can often over-react, or under-react to the sensory stimuli around them. Sensory areas include oral, olfactory, visual, tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive. Difficulties with sensory processing can lead to a child’s ability to function in different environments such as the mall (very noisy), classroom (many distractions), or the beach (different tactile inputs). Sensory processing can also lead to issues with feeding and every day tasks such as bathing, and the ability to tolerate different clothing textures.
OT’s can also work with children to develop social skills and appropriate behavior. For example: tolerating loosing, improving attention, and sharing.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING YOUR FIRST VISIT
When meeting with an OT for the first time be prepared to answer questions about your child’s behavior, habits, routines, and pertaining medical history. This will help the therapist gain an understanding of your concerns and what areas the child might be having difficulty with. From here, therapists will often perform a screening which is an informal observation of your child in order to determine if they will benefit from a formal in-depth evaluation. In some cases, this step may be skipped and a formal evaluation will be completed as the first choice. Once the evaluation is performed, scored, and skill areas requiring intervention are identified. Your therapist will provide you with a plan of care detailing what therapy will focus on. An occupational therapy plan of care should include areas of deficits, therapeutic goals, frequency and duration of therapy sessions. An occupational therapist uses play during their sessions in order to help the child achieve their therapeutic goals.