When I first told my husband about our 4 year old son going to Occupational Therapy, he looked at me like I had lost my damn mind and said, “Why does he need occuapational therapy? He doesn’t have a job!”
Whenever I talk to people about him being in OT they always want to know what he does there and why he goes. So this post is all about pediatric occupational therapy and th eimportance of it with special needs children.
So, what exactly is OT?
Occupational therapy helps people live as independently as possible. Occupational therapists work with people of all ages who (because of illness, injury, developmental delays, or psychological problems) need help learning skills that can allow them to live more independent, productive and satisfying lives. Occupational therapists use work, self-care, and recreational activities to increase independent function.
What is a Pediatric Occupational Therapaist and what do they actully do?
Pediatric occupational therapists focus on the “occupations” of childhood which are play, socialization, self-care, and school performance. Pediatric occupational therapists help children develop the skills needed for functional independence in these important developmental areas.
Pediatric OT is aimed at the unique needs of each individual child and is provided through meaningful activity, so as to keep the child motivated and invested in the therapeutic process. Also known as, Play Therapy. While pediatric therapy is designed to feel like play to the child, expertly trained occupational therapists draw from strategies in many specialty areas to build upon the child’s progress.
Pediatric occupational therapy focuses on the progression of developmental skills, the use of compensation techniques and/or adaptive equipment as needed, and adapting to the environment. The goal for the child is to promote the highest level of independence and success during work or play.
OTs place great importance on working closely with parents and other caregivers/teachers for carryover into the home and school.
More important than the things they use during pediatric therapy is the building of a relationship. OTs focus not just on skill development, but also on play, socialization, language, and teamwork. They strive to help the child learn that they are partners in this process and that he/she is able to achieve the extraordinary.
Why is pediatric OT so important?
When children are offered the ‘just-right’ sensory motor and input demands that are based off their own unique needs, they typically will respond at their optimum level. When they are successful in an activity, it helps to motivate them and organize their behavior to participate more in day-to-day activities.
Sensory motor activities that are child-initiated and play-based are therapeutic. Activities that control the intensity, type, and duration of sensory input carefully will either calm the over-responsive child OR alert the under-responsive child. This allows them to participate more fully in self-help tasks and play that is more developmentally appropriate.
The list starts with providing aid to children facing difficulties in daily activities like brushing, dressing, toileting, writing, drawing, etc. The therapy helps develop these self-help skills in the children.
Here is a list of some ares and conditions that pediatric OTs work on:
- Sensory processing
- Play and socialization
- Fine motor and hand skill development
- Visual perceptual/visual-motor skills
- Adaptive equipment
- Environmental modifications
- Sensory-based feeding problems
- Developmental delay
- Down Syndrome
- Cerebral Palsy
- Behavioral difficulties
- And more….
What is our role as the parent?
Parents have a huge role in the therapy of their child. It’s important that they understand what the therapist is doing and PARTICIPATE. This will assist them in helping their child at home.
Take sensory integration for an example. An essential way a parent (or teacher) can expedite sensory integration and sensory processing is by realizing that it is real and has an impact on the child’s development. Although teachers and parents offer an enriched environment for the child to promote healthy maturity and growth, they should also consider the unique needs of each child.
By working with a pediatric occupational therapist for early intervention, parents can enhance their child’s physical, social, cognitive, emotional, communicative, and adaptive developments.
Now let’s do a mini delve in to what Pediatric Occupational Therapy looks like in different types of special needs.
Sensory Processing Issues:
It is generally observed that children with sensory processing issues are unable to synthesize information in the basic five senses (sight, smell, touch, hear, and taste). These children may experience over-sensitivity, under-sensitivity, or both at different places like school, home, or anywhere. These kids often feel difficulty in paying attention and get distracted easily by sounds or visual stimulations or other things. They could also try to avoid recess and other group activites.
Occupational therapy can help them regain the skills and address the issue in a proper manner.
Kids with Cerebral Palsy:
Occupational therapy is also beneficial for those suffering from cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and other disorders in which the child needs a wheelchair. The OT teaches the child to use the wheelchair in a proper manner and gain the ability to be independant in their home, make it to class on time, get things out of their locker, and more.
Kids with Autistic Spectrum Disorder:
Autism and SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) are somewhat related but are not the same. Children with SPD may not suffer from Autism, but the reverse may be true. The child suffering from SPD has trouble communicating with other people, limited play skills, less interest in activities, and more. The occupational therapist can help gain these skills by observing the child’s behavior and developing a plan for them. The OT uses different sets of methods and plans, and there is no one single ideal program. These may include activities to help with interaction, puzzles to develop coordination and awareness, and more.
Fine and Gross Motor Skills Delay
Gross motor skill involves the movement of muscles needed in whole body movement (arms, legs, core). Fine motor skills (or dexterity) are the coordination of small muscles in movement (forearms and fingers). Children having trouble with these skills may experience difficulty in walking, riding a bike, writing, puzzles, and other activities.
Occupational therapy can be used to deal with the condition and eventually eradicate it. They can adapt and create skills in order to become more self-sufficiant and independant, especially with regards to grooming.
What are some OT activites that can be seen during a therapy session?
There are a number of activities that can be arranged for children with special needs depending on the condition. Therapy can be conducted in several places like a hospital, home, school, a clinic, specialized center, etc. It will be designed differently depending on age and abilities.
For Toddlers and Infants:
Infants generally face trouble sleeping at night. The common exercises that are included are bath time activities, providing gentle massage, sand and water therapy, feeding therapy, activities using specialized toys to make them deal with light and sound, olfactory input activities, and more.
Sensory Integration Activities
These activities help a child respond more actively and accurately to the environment. The activities are designed in such a way that it creates a deep pressure on the child. These can be active or passive. You can create soft corners in the room using soft furnishing like a bean bag which provides a wonderful deep pressure with a calming effect.
Another thing you can do is let him/her lie down on a mat or bed and cover them with blankets and pillows to develop pressure. Other techniques would be to give them a stress ball to squeeze, chew toys, a liquid motion bubbler, and many more sensory items.
These are designed for the child’s legs and arms so that they can work in an effective way. These are divided into two broad categories: bilateral and hand-eye coordination skills. For hand-eye coordination, ask your child to hit a ball with a bat, catch a ball, etc. Bilateral activities provide the ability to use both sides of the body in an accurate manner. You can ask your child to roll out pastry sheets from a play dough, ask them to pull a rope hand-over-hand, etc.
Visual Perception Activities
These activities help the child understand the information sent by the eyes to the brain. For form constancy, and to help them understand shapes, put objects on a tray and ask your child to recognize them. You can also use any object at home for this activity. Use books to teach them different fonts and same alphabets of different size to enhance their abilities. Ask your child to draw shapes, lines, alphabets, etc. You can also use a jigsaw puzzle to aid development process.
Activities for Fine and Gross Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are required for those who have trouble using a hand, fingers, and forearm properly. The basic therapy includes simple exercises of arms, wrist, fingers, etc., so that they can perform regular work like holding a pencil with ease. Give them safety scissors and ask them to cut out shapes from the paper.
For gross motor skills, help your child with core and shoulder activities. These activities may include swimming, hopscotch, wheelbarrow walking, walking over an unstable surface, etc.
Other activities involved in pediatric occupational therapy that could keep them involved and improve their developmental processes are: painting with pom-pom balls, making a playdough puzzle, smash the dough or cut out shapes from it, place a coin in a container, and more.
If it is not obvious by now, please let me be the very blunt, gigiantic billboard in neon lights for you.
EARLY INTERVENTION IS VITAL!!!!!!
If you even THINK that your child is delayed in the slightest, insist that their pediatrician sends out a referral for an OT to evaluate them. If the pediatrician denies that simple request then you need a new doctor ASAP.
So the next time someone asks why a child needs occuapational therapy, you can educate them on the importance of it and all of the positive benefits that will come from the outisde assistance.
-The Lazy Mama