It can be challenging to know what to do when your child is diagnosed with a disability, has been in an accident or isn’t meeting developmental milestones. You want the best for your child so they can thrive and enjoy their childhood. You’re already part of the way there. Information gathering is critical to finding the right resources for your son or daughter. I’d like to share with you 4 ways your child can benefit from occupational therapy – and when you should seek services.
The best time to get help is right now. Early interventions are much more effective at bringing about lasting change. Occupational therapy (OT) is just one tool you can add to your arsenal of resources.
Many parents are misinformed that it’s just for older children or adults, but young kids can reap the benefits of pediatric occupational therapy. These professionals are skilled at transforming typical exercises into games and imaginative play your child will love. What can kids gain from these special services? Here are four ways OT can help your child improve and when you should enlist their help:
How Can Occupational Therapy Help My Child?
OT works on the skills children need to succeed and thrive in everyday life. With the proper home support, the exercises and routines your therapist puts together for your little one can significantly improve their quality of life.
(1) Improve Motor Skills
Motor skills break down into two categories. Fine motor skills deal with smaller movements in the wrists, fingers, hands, toes and feet, and gross movements involve large muscles in the arms, legs and torso. Therapists can work with your child to improve these areas, helping them kick a ball, run, grasp objects, color in the lines and so much more.
(2) Increase Independence in Life Skills
The ultimate goal of OT is to enhance the quality of life, so a primary focus is encouraging independence and building life skills. Your child could get help creating a daily schedule or morning routine to keep them on track or work on the individual abilities necessary to feed themselves, walk or get dressed.
(3) Develop Vital Social and Play Skills
A skilled therapist can improve your child’s ability to play with peers as well as independently. Their goal is to give kids the ability to initiate play without an adult and engage in age-appropriate imaginative activities. They can also help children learn how to interpret social cues, improve eye contact, share and take turns.
(4) Boost Executive Functioning
Executive functioning covers a broad range of skills like organization, time management, focus, following directions and an ability to self-regulate. A pediatric OT can help kids and parents find strategies and tools to improve their daily activities.
Signs Your Child Should See an OT
Kids learn and grow at different rates, so unless your son or daughter is drastically behind typical milestones, you probably have nothing to worry about. Your pediatrician or child’s teachers can be helpful resources for spotting anything significant. Otherwise, these are some signs your child might benefit from pediatric occupational therapy.
There’s likely nothing to be concerned about if your child is a few months behind schedule in rolling over, crawling and walking. However, if they continue to trail behind, ask your pediatrician for their opinion. Most milestones require developing stronger gross motor skills, so some similar signs to look for are an inability to climb stairs, problems with balance, or difficulty throwing and catching. However, children learn these skills at vastly different ages, so check with a professional before you grow concerned.
Overreactions to Sensory Input
Toddlers and babies are typically fairly sensitive, but if your child has sensory processing issues, you’ll be able to tell the difference. Do certain textures, smells or sounds send them into a meltdown with each exposure? Is it a fight to get them dressed each morning? Maybe your little one is the opposite and seems to need constant sensory stimulation. Both sides are signs of sensory issues, and your child could likely benefit from OT.
Avoiding Eye Contact or Repetitive Play
Healthy social interaction is essential for child development, so it can be alarming when your little one seems to avoid being with other kids. Some things to watch for are continued antisocial behaviors and consistent avoidance of eye contact. Also, look out for repetitive play like lining up toys. These may all be early signs of autism and can often improve with professional guidance.
Poor Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills become especially apparent around the time when kids start preschool or kindergarten. They start becoming even more independent at getting themselves ready in the morning — doing up zippers, buttons and shoelaces. Also, they need those skills to cut paper, hold crayons and pencils, and use a computer. If you or their teacher notice consistent difficulties in these skills, an OT could help.
Reinforce Skills at Home
A child’s progress with OT depends on several factors, including the skills that need work, the quality of the professional, the child’s cooperation and level of ability, and the caregiver’s willingness to continue treatment at home.
An OT can only do so much during office visits. They’ll most likely recommend a course of action you should continue at home. Following their recommendations will reinforce the skills and exercises with your child and help cement improvements.