Q: What can Occupational Therapy do for my child?
A: Occupational therapy uses meaningful and purposeful activity (or “occupations”) to help people achieve optimal quality of life. Pediatric occupational therapy practice specializes in the occupations and development of children and adolescents.
Much of pediatric O.T. focuses on play as the ultimate developmental activity. Children can benefit from an O.T.’s help in a variety of ways. We can help you and your child to build skills or adapt the occupation or environment to reach your goals.
Here are just a few commonly seen examples in pediatric practices.
- O.T.s can help with gross motor development for a child who is uncoordinated or who has physical disabilities to enable that child to play.
- Traditionally, O.T.s have a long history of fine motor expertise. Since people tend to use hands for many occupations, O.T.s are often go-to helpers for handwriting and fine motor activities.
- We can help with navigation of environments for a child who has hearing, sight or other impairments, helping them to use their other senses and teaching families to adapt and support in desired environments and occupations.
- One of my favorite areas of O.T. is to analyze environments, then adapt them to create supportive, developmental and nurturing spaces within the community or home settings depending on the needs of the client.
- Frameworks for addressing sensory integration and sensory processing disorders were developed by an OT in the 1970s. If your child struggles with interpreting their world, (either by overreacting or underreacting to sensory input) an O.T. can assist you with knowledge of how these complex neurological systems work together.
- Some occupational therapists specialize in feeding and can help with increasing food acceptance and improved feeding for children depending on the source of the issue: sensory, motor, fear, exposure etc.
- O.T.s just love a good “activity analysis” and are trained in breaking down occupations to find out what parts are causing difficulties. Then we help adapt it or build on the child’s skills to achieve it.
- Some O.T.s also work with adaptive equipment. This could include a weighted blanket to calm, a weighted spoon to suppress tremors while eating, or fitting the right tray to a child’s wheelchair.
- Most O.T.s also have some training in special splints or garments to help with various physical or sensory support. These can serve to protect skin or joints. They can also help prevent or correct muscle and tissue shortening or injury.
- Visual perception and how our eyes work with our hands to complete motor tasks or writing can also be addressed. This is some of why we are seen to do so many “arts and crafts.”
- O.T.s also can work with mental health issues; therapists who are more intensively trained can work in specialized settings such as eating disorder clinics for adolescents and inpatient psychiatric settings.
- Most Occupational Therapists are just good problem solvers! With a diverse history like ours, we tend to love a challenge, be creative and many times end up a “jack of all trades” after a career of looking at thousands of different occupations that humans do every day. From brushing teeth to riding horses, we like to help people do what they love.
Especially in pediatric practice, many other therapies often seem to “overlap” with O.T. (particularly Speech and Physical therapy). Most of the time, these therapies are complementary to each other and work together in teams. All work on development but with different backgrounds, focus areas and training, so it is important to find the right therapist for your child’s needs. Of course, most pediatric therapists have a fun reputation—we love to play!
Joanna Blanchard is an occupational therapist and the mother of two boys on opposite ends of the autism spectrum. She is the owner of Everybody Stims Occupational Therapy in Vancouver, Washington. Have a question for Joanna? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.