April is National Occupational Therapy Month! Here at KidsCare Therapy, we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to partner with Avant Garde Parenting to educate parents all over the country about this incredible service we’ve been offering children in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Perhaps you’ll even discover how occupational therapy can help a child you know succeed in everyday life!
When you think of occupational therapy, what comes to mind? What do you think an occupational therapist does? (Hint: they do not help people choose a career!) Of the three disciplines KidsCare Therapy offers (speech, physical and occupational therapy), there seems to be the least familiarity with the role of occupational therapy, especially in pediatric patients.
In its most basic form, occupational therapy helps people fully develop the tasks that occupy their time. What do you spend most of your day doing? Most of you would say work occupies a majority of your time, whether that is in a professional environment or in the home. An occupational therapist assists in the development of skills that are crucial to success in this area. In pediatric occupational therapy, the goal is to help children develop into fully-functioning independent adults by developing necessary life skills. And what better way to accomplish this than through what occupies most children’s time—play! Playing is essentially the job of a child, after all. By creating games and activities that incorporate the development fine motor skills—grasping and pointing, just to name a few—occupational therapists are laying the groundwork for mastery of important tasks such as handwriting, using utensils to eat, and bathing.
And because our daily interactions are not just limited to objects, occupational therapists also focus on how children relate to other individuals. Activities can be centered around learning to take turns and increasing comfort while engaging in social exchanges with another person. They will also address attention deficits and behavioral concerns. Therapy helps prolong attention to, and increase participation in, everyday tasks.
The ability to thrive requires problem-solving skills as well. Occupational therapy is instrumental in helping children not only recognize a problem, but also fully comprehend the issue and develop a strategy to overcome it. Occupational therapists also address trunk and upper extremity weakness, or a lack of strength in the shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and torso. Without first developing the muscles in these parts of the body, everyday tasks are nearly impossible.
The very nature of occupational therapy makes the home an ideal setting in which to administer it—therapists are able to incorporate objects from the child’s own home into treatment. This means that a child is able to learn how to correctly use their own toys. In addition, they are learning to eat at their own table, with their own utensils, and they are potty trained in their own bathroom.
As you’ll learn in the following success story, many children seen by occupational therapists suffer from sensory-processing disorders. Home health has proved to be extremely successful for these patients, and one of our occupational therapists will explain how she worked in the child’s natural environment to overcome many of the problems he was facing.
Three-year old Chris was referred to occupational therapy by his speech therapist due to concerns with his poor behavior, decreased attention, and possible sensory processing difficulties. When he began OT services, he frequently bounced between activities, was overly focused on certain play items (Thomas the Train, Cars), used only a few intelligible words, was sensitive to touch (disliked brushing teeth/hair and haircuts; didn’t like messy hands), and was sensitive to sounds (held hands over his ears often). He was a picky eater, delayed in potty training, behind on fine motor skills (grasp, drawing, snipping, & stringing beads), frequently threw tantrums, and preferred to play alone.
OT treatment involved structured play which incorporated his special interests to increase his focus and motivation to try new things, alternating between sit-down and movement activities to increase his attention, play with textured or messy materials, and the use of songs involving touch (“Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes”) to decrease touch sensitivity. Also utilized were oral-motor/mouth activities (horns, whistles, bubbles, food play) to decrease sensitivity for brushing teeth and eating different foods, Therapeutic Listening ® (the use of modulated music on headphones) to decrease sound sensitivity and increase language and attention skills, practice of fine motor and self-care skills, behavior modification strategies (structure, choices, rewards, limits), and modeling of proper social interaction skills. With skilled OT intervention, home activities, caregiver education, and coordination with his treating Speech Therapist, Chris was discharged from both OT and ST services after one year. He is now able to participate in all age-appropriate tasks, has normal language skills, has fewer behavioral outbursts, attends well, and can play appropriately with his family and peers and with increased interest.
Be sure to check back for our next posting, where we’ll talk about some of the more common conditions seen by occupational therapists, developmental red flags of which you should be aware, and some tips from our in-office occupational therapist to assist your child in proper development. In addition, we’ll be sharing another success story where you’ll learn about how OT services helped a child overcome some of the problems that come along with Autism. You won’t want to miss it!