Occupational therapy (OT) is a type of treatment that focuses upon helping children to achieve greater independence in their lives and develop life skills. Through exercises, task-related activities, and specific treatments occupational therapists can help your child learn or regain critical skills. OT can help children with a variety of needs to improve cognitive, physical, or motor skills to increase self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. If certain areas are unable to be improved, occupational therapists will work with your child to create alternative strategies to achieve these goals.
Some parents think that because a child doesn’t have an “occupation,” occupational therapy is only for adults. However, each child does have a job: your child’s job is to play and learn. An occupational therapist can help evaluate your child’s playing skills, academic performance, and daily activities to determine what is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. In additional to helping your child’s physical wellbeing, an occupational therapist can address social, psychological, and environmental factors that can affect functioning in different ways.
How is Physical Therapy Different from Occupational Therapy?
While both PT and OT can vastly improve your child’s quality of life and teach your children the skills necessary to engage in normal activities, these two disciplines do have different focuses. Physical therapists will focus upon building strength, decreasing pain, increasing range of motion, endurance and gross motor functioning. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, helps to increase fine motor skills, visual-perceptual skills, cognitive ability, and sensory-processing challenges.
Conditions That May Need Occupational Therapy
There are a variety of syndromes, diagnoses, and medical problems that can be helped by an occupational therapist. The following conditions may benefit greatly from occupational therapy:
- Autism and pervasive developmental disorders
- Birth defects
- Birth injuries
- Broken bones and other orthopedic injuries
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delays
- Learning problems
- Mental health or behavioral disorders
- Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
- Post-surgical conditions
- Spina bifida
- Traumatic amputations
- Traumatic injuries to brain or spinal cord
Treatment Approaches by an Occupational Therapist
An occupational therapist will perform a variety of evaluations to determine exactly what types of approaches will work best for your child’s unique challenges. Your child’s OT will constantly evaluate and reevaluate your child’s progress and assess for the needs for any changes to his or her treatment approaches. Some of these approaches to occupational therapy may include:
Fine motor skills. Working with fine motor skills in the hands so that a younger child can grasp and release toys and an older child can develop good handwriting skills. We offer a handwriting without tears program to assist children who need to fine-tune their fine motor skills.
Improve hand-eye coordination. Through the usage of play, an occupational therapist will help children learn to hit a target, bat a ball, and copy from the blackboard for school-aged children.
Daily living. An occupational therapist will help children who have developmental delays to learn ways to perform normal activities of daily living. Your child’s OT may use assistive devices to help your child learn to dress, bathe themselves, brush their teeth, and work to help your child to learn to feed him or herself.
Anger management. Children who have behavioral difficulties or major frustrations with their challenges may need help to work through their anger management issues. An OT can help your child learn to stop hitting others or acting out and use different ways to deal with anger, such as writing out their feelings or engaging in an exhausting physical activity.
Coordination. An OT can help a child who has a physical disability preventing them from developing proper coordination by teaching them ways to feed themselves, use a computer, and increase the speed and legibility of handwriting.
Specialized equipment. Some children will benefit from the usage of assistive devices to help them reach their full potential. An OT can help evaluate your child’s need for specialized equipment such as bathing equipment, splints, dressing devices, communication aids, and wheelchairs.
Adaptation. An occupational therapist can help you and your family learn new ways to adapt home and school environments so that they are more conducive to your child’s needs.
Family Needs. An occupational therapist will work with loved ones, family, and caregivers of children to provide guidance about safe and effective ways of caring for your child at home.
Focus and social skills. Children who have challenges with paying attention or responding to sensory stimuli may need help from an OT to help improve social skills and focus in school or at home.