What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy is a treatment program used to help children who have difficulty with fine motor skills, visual motor/visual perceptual skills, self help skills, and sensory integration. Children with these problems may have difficulty playing, learning to write, color, and cut, and difficulty processing letters and symbols for reading and writing. They may also have difficulty dressing themselves, buttoning/snapping/zippering their clothes, tying their shoes or feeding themselves. Children with sensory integration or sensory processing disorders may have difficulty tolerating such things as haircuts, brushing their teeth, different food textures, the wind on their face, different temperatures, water, loud sounds, bright or flashing lights, being touched, etc. Treatment is provided by a registered, certified, licensed occupational therapist.
There are many different reasons why occupational therapy might be needed. In childhood, occupational therapy is often used to help children who have:
- Birth defects
- Multiple handicaps/Syndromes
- Cerebral Palsy
- Delayed fine motor development
- Delayed visual motor development
- Developmental Delay
- Sensory integration/Sensory Processing Disorder
- Childhood Limb Apraxia
- Injuries to the hand, shoulder, arm
- Low Muscle tone
When should therapy start?
A comprehensive occupational therapy evaluation should be scheduled as soon as any of the above mentioned difficulties are noticed. The evaluation will determine if therapy is needed. The earlier therapy is started, the better.
What happens during occupational therapy?
A registered occupational therapist will test your child and find out the types of fine motor, visual motor, visual perceptual, self-help, and/or sensory skills that he or she needs to work on. Occupational therapy includes training and repetitive exercises and/or use of devices that can make it easier for some children to function in their daily environment. Occupational therapists also work closely with the parents/family members to teach them how to help improve their child's activities of daily living at home (e.g, paying attention, reading, writing, coloring, cutting, dressing, eating, etc.)
The therapist usually works one-on-one with your child. During a typical occupational therapy session, your child works on various skills while engaging in a fun, structured play environment. Some examples are as follows:
- Fine Motor Coordination skills: During these exercises your child may utilize fine motor manipulatives (e.g., blocks, beads, playdough, coins, legos, tweezers, crayons, etc.), puzzles, games, coloring/printing/drawing activities, and toys to enhance their dexterity, range of motion, strength, and coordination to become more independent with daily activities.
- Visual Motor Integration Exercises: During these exercises, your child may engage in various activities such as dot-to-dots, mazes, tracing, chalkboard tasks, maps/graphing, scissor skills, coloring/drawing/printing, target activities (e.g., toss/catch, ring toss, bean bag toss, basketball, Velcro-ball) and other games involving eye-hand coordination
- Visual Perceptual Skills: During these exercises, your child may engage in various games and/or activities to improve their overall ability to interpret or give meaning to what is seen. Some games/activities may include: Perfection, parquetry blocks, legos, memory games, sorting, I Spy, Simon, and puzzles (with varying degrees of difficulty) all of which are done to improve the seven areas of visual perception.
- Self-Help Skills: While working to improve self-help skills, your child will typically practice manipulating fasteners (e.g., snaps, buttons, zippers, belts) on a practice dressing board or vest. Shoe tying may also be practiced. Additionally, your child may practice scooping or grasping food items to assist with self-feeding.
- Sensory Integration Exercises: While working to improve sensory integration skills, your child may engage in a fun, sensory obstacle course that is specially designed to meet their specific needs. They may crawl through a tunnel, jump on a trampoline, balance on a rocker board, swing, play in a ball pit, manipulate different textures and temperatures, etc., to help modulate their senses for increased independence with their daily activities.
How often will my child go to occupational therapy?
How often a child has occupational therapy depends on the particular problem, but usually ranges from 1-2 times per week. Your child may need to go more often at first. Later your child will not need to go as often and will just need to practice a lot at home.
How can I help my child?
Helping your child at home is very important. Parents work with the occupational therapist to learn the different skills and exercises to practice. Children who complete the program quickly and with the most lasting results are those whose parents have been involved. Overcoming problems related to occupational therapy takes time and patience. Ask the therapist what you can do to help at home.