What Is Occupational Therapy for Kids and How Does It Help?
When most people hear the term “occupational therapy” they instantly assume it’s a service created for assisting adults progress through the hierarchy in their chosen career path. In fact however, occupational therapy is in reality a service focused on independence in general and assisting people of all ages become confident and competent in life’s most crucial daily activities and tasks.
When it comes to paediatric occupational therapy, this is a service usually geared towards families where the children of any age might be dealing with developmental problems in any area of their life. From personal hygiene to essential hand-eye coordination to visual perception skills and basic movement, the job of an occupational therapist is to assist children gain the confidence required to cope with the simple daily activities and tasks that are crucial for healthy development.
What Do Occupational Therapists Do?
In terms of what exactly an occupational therapist does, this will usually vary according to the needs of the respective child. More often than nor, the child’s parents will have contacted the professional with some concern regarding one or multiple areas of their development. In some other cases, the kid might have been referred by a different doctor after being diagnosed with a learning difficulty or a developmental problem, but in general there will always be a specific reason for involving a therapist and hence a clear problem or area to focus on.
Along with examining the information provided, a therapist might carry out various observations of the child in question both at school and at home as well as in a clinical setting. It is often very important to witness how the child behaves when removed from the formal environment of an office, so some external monitoring could be needed. This will then allow the therapist to choose the most suitable course of action, which might involve anything from speech and language development sessions to physical exercises and right through to physiotherapy.
How to Identify a Child Needing Occupational Therapy
It could be quite difficult for parents to fully and formally identify when and where a certain child requires occupational therapy for the obvious reason that all children develop at various speeds and in various ways. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to certain recurrent and prolonged problems as while it is normal and common for any child to encounter certain developmental challenges and obstacles, any recurrent pattern could be a sign of an issue.
For example, you may want to speak to a therapist if you observe any of the following:
- Your kid seems to struggle carrying out simple motor tasks, or get tired quickly when lifting, moving, playing or generally doing anything physical.
- Motor skills like skipping, jumping, balancing or riding a bike seem to be unusually difficult for your child, or their progress appears to have stopped.
- Sensory stimulation has the potential to trigger an overly sensitive response – anything from sound to texture to touch appears to be responded to with unusual sensitivity.
- Reaction to different stimuli is either dulled or delayed.
- Drawing, painting and writing seem to be causing difficulty. It could be that the child is not able to coordinate their hands on paper, or that they are finding it difficult to have a solid enough grip on the paintbrush or pencils.
- The child is making little to no progress at all with getting dressed and undressed.
- Holding or carrying items for a long period of time seems to be problematic, resulting in frequent dropping.
Of course, it is important to remember that none of the above or any combination thereof is a clear diagnosis of any type of developmental problem as most will be experienced by any child on a temporary basis during their childhood.
When to Call the Professionals
Realising the time has come to call the professionals is tricky as on one hand it is never advisable to come to early conclusions, but on the other hand it is extremely important to nip any developmental issues in the bud as early as possible. According to the experts in speech therapy for schools there is no such thing as speaking to a professional too early.
More often than not, what seems to be a developmental problem turns out to be just a stepping stone of the normal development of the child. But for the sake of peace of mind and the child’s best interests in the long term, it is always a good idea to bring any potential issue to the attention of a professional at the earliest possible time.