Understanding therapy for kids can be overwhelming for the parents. Now especially, with distancing requirements, hybrid learning, or teletherapy, occupational therapy services might look different than you expected. Let’s break down pediatric occupational therapy so your questions and concerns are answered and the overwhelm dissipates a little. Ok, so you’ve received a recommendation to have your child screened or evaluated by occupational therapy. So what next? What does that mean? When there is an apparent need to take your child to therapy, it can be helpful to know what to expect. You might have a lot of questions about getting started with your child in therapy. I want to create a space where your questions are answered when it comes to occupational therapy. So, sit back, relax, and read on…
What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy is a service that helps people achieve function and independence in the things that are important to them…in the things that occupy one’s day. OTs do this by offering adaptations, modifications, and by addressing underlying factors that impact independence.
Let’s take it a step further; Think about what you do in a single day: getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, making the bed, making and eating breakfast, getting out the door on time and with everything you need for the day, doing your job at work and everything that entails, driving, shopping for groceries, setting the table, balancing your checkbook. This list could go on and on and on!
All of these skills are your daily occupations, or things that occupational therapists can help one accomplish so they are as independent and functional as possible. But there’s more to it than just the daily tasks. There’s also the ability to physically accomplish these jobs. There’s the ability to staying focused on the task at hand, prioritize what’s important, and to stay organized. There’s safety and higher level thinking involved. There’s tolerance to one’s senses and the world around you. There’s balance, vision, coordination, and endurance involved. Essentially, every system in your body needs to be working optimally so that you can be as functional as possible during each and every task that you accomplish during the day.
Kids in therapy can accomplish so much! Occupational therapy works on all of these things!
What do occupational therapists work on with kids?
Occupational therapists can work on many different things with kids.
Occupational Therapy In Schools:
- Any need that impacts education or learning
- Fine motor skills
- Cutting with scissors
- Assistive technology to improve education or learning
- Managing containers in the lunch room
- Keyboarding or typing as an accommodation to learning
- Sensory needs that impact education
- Staying organized
- Cognitive processing
- Visual processing
- Executive functioning
- Motor abilities
- Participation in the classroom
Occupational therapy In the Home or Outpatient Settings:
- Self-care skills- getting dressed, grooming, bathing, caring for oneself and the tasks associated with self-care
- Leisure activities
- Toileting and potty training
- Safety in the community
- Feeding and oral motor skills
- Addressing food texture issues or picky eating
- Sensory processing
- Social participation
- Executive functioning skills- organization, attention, working memory, planning, prioritization, impulse control, and other skills
- Fine and gross motor skills
- Eye-hand coordination
- Balance and gross motor coordination
Occupational therapy can also work with children in early intervention or birth though 3 years of age on development of skills. This can occur as a result of a disability or difficulty in developing certain skills. Still other aspects of care can be related to autism, sensory integration needs, mental health, and specific diagnoses.
Who Needs occupational therapy?
The above lists might help explain the question of who OTs service, but it can be helpful to have a list of those who benefit from occupational therapy. This diagnosis list should give you a starting point, but know that OT works with anyone struggling to achieve functional skills or independence in an aspect of any task! This page is referring to pediatric occupational therapy interventions.
- Autism Spectrum, Asperger’s syndrome
- Sensory processing disorders
- Auditory processing disorders
- Visual processing impairments
- Birth injuries or birth defects
- Behavioral or mental health impairments
- Visually impaired
- Traumatic injuries to the brain or spinal cord
- Traumatic injuries to the body- amputation’s, etc.
- Learning disabilities or learning problems
- Developmental delays
- Brachial plexus injuries
- Down Syndrome
- Rett’s Syndrome
- Spina Bifida
- Cerebral palsy
- Childhood stroke
- Pediatric rheumatoid arthritis
- Cognitive disorders
- Broken bones, injuries, surgical impairments, or other orthopedic injuries
- Post-surgical impairments or conditions
- Motor or coordination impairments
- MUCH, much more!
How does occupational therapy work?
When it comes to occupational therapy, one thing is for certain. There are no two treatment plans that are alike. That’s because OT is so specialized! What is important for one child may be goals for them in occupational therapy while another child with similar needs will have completely different goals to address.
Parents can work closely with occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants to implement strategies and home programs in the home.
Identifying specific needs and progress toward goals requires contact between parents, caregivers, and the occupational therapist professional.
Many times, OTs work with the family as a whole to address challenges faced by the family of a child with needs.
In most states, occupational therapists require a doctor’s order in order to administer evaluation and intervention services. In the schools, typically, the child’s educational recommends a need for occupational therapy evaluation.
How will my child receive teletherapy?
If your child has received occupational therapy services in the past, you might be wondering how teletherapy works. Or, maybe your child is new to therapy and the thought of having a child in therapy via a computer screen seems impossible. You have valid concerns! Occupational therapy is very much centered on hands-on interaction with the therapist who strives to help your child build skills and accommodate for adjustments needed in positioning, motor skills, etc. and that service is very much an in-person skilled service.
Ask any occupational therapist and they will say they WANT to be face-to-face with your child, physically playing with your sweet kiddo, and interactiving in a hands-on ways.
However, occupational therapists are skilled at problem solving, adjusting to needs and the environment, and pivoting on a dime. OTs have got the requirements of social distancing as a result of a global pandemic in the bag!
Therapists are excelling at providing fun, engaging, and skill-building services through digital, virtual therapy, and through motivating and encouraging hybrid versions of therapy that needs to be done during these strange times.
Teletherapy is just one more hat that occupational therapists have had to wear and they are excelling at it! Here is more information on teletherapy and what it looks like.
Resources for parents of a child in therapy
Your child’s occupational therapist will be the biggest advocate on your child’s team. Use them as a resource! However, I wanted to offer resources here as well. These are great places to start when it comes to discovering tools, strategies, and specific activities that can help your child. I’ve had many parents of kids receiving therapy tell me that they’ve passed information and resources from this site onto their therapists. I’ve also had many therapists tell me that they’ve found this site because of a parent’s recommendation or request to work on specific areas of need. This is your starting space to find the resources and tools that will best serve your child.
Occupational Therapy Home Programs– START HERE for activities to work on occupational therapy goals or specific skills at home, so kids can do the very activities that your child’s OT might suggest to supplement or support therapy services.
Executive Function Resources for Parents
Executive Functioning Resources– START HERE for resources, activities, and strategies to address attention, impulse control, planning, prioritization, organization, problem solving, and other brain-related challenges that impact learning and accomplishing chores or daily tasks at home.
- How to Help Kids with Messy, Disorganized Homework
- Toys and Games to Improve Executive Function
- How to help kids get “unstuck” and plan, prioritize so they can get things done
- Impulse Control for Kids
- Kindergarten Readiness and Executive Functioning Skills
- Books for Parents to Learn about Executive Functioning
- How to help kids think ahead
Fine Motor Resources for parents
Fine Motor Skills– START HERE for specific activities designed to help kids develop stronger hands so they can manipulate toys and clothing fasteners…or have enough endurance to color a picture without complaining their hands are tired…or have strong fingers that can hold the pencil so they can write neatly and so you can read their handwriting.
- What are fine motor skills and why does my kid need to develop them?
- Activities to Improve Hand Strength
- Fun Crafts that Build Fine Motor Skills
- How Should Fine Motor Skills develop? Use blocks to help!
Occupations of Kids…resources for Parents to Help Kids Become More Independent
Occupations– START HERE to help your child build independence in their daily tasks like getting themselves dressed, tying their shoes, learning to type, potty training, staying safe in the community, and all of the exact ways that parents want their children to grow and learn.
- How to help kids learn to dress themselves
- Teach kids to tie their own shoes
- Potty training special needs kids
- Teach kids to use a zipper
- Teach kids to button
- Teaching kids to type
- Teach kids to cut with scissors
- Teach skills with cooking!
Handwriting– START HERE to understand what’s going on behind sloppy handwriting. You’ll find resources and specific strategies to help kids write on the lines, space between words, form letters accurately, learn cursive writing, so they can write independency and so you and others can read their writing.
- Build a Better Pencil Grasp with Play
- How to Teach Kids to Write Letters
- Teach Kids to Write on the Lines
- Teach Kids to Space Between Words
- What Therapists Want Parents to Know About Pencil Grasp
- How to Teach Cursive Writing
Sensory Resources for parents
Sensory– START HERE to help your child manage their behaviors, emotions, and all things “sensory”. OTs help kids tolerate and accommodate for sensory input like that scratchy tag on their clothes or their hatred for the sock seam on their feet. They can help kids with the tools they need for picky eating, specific sounds, or other sensory issues. Therapists can help you create a sensory diet that works and that kids actually want to do. There is so much to sensory and you can find activities and tools to help.
- How to Create a Sensory Diet
- What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
- Sensory Play Ideas for Babies
- Sensory Play Ideas for Kids
- Sensory Friendly Clothing
- Sensory Meltdown or Tantrum…which is it?
- Picky Eating: Is it Sensory or Oral Motor?
- Sensory Coping Strategies for Kids
Vision– START HERE for information on what’s going on behind trouble with reading, coordination troubles, or even math. Did you know that vision is related to all of these things? It’s true! Here, you’ll find your way on how to help your child with visual perceptual skills, visual motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and even motor planning! Wondering what these words even mean and how they relate to your kiddo? We’ve got you covered!
- How Vision Impacts Learning
- Vision Problems You Can Not “See”
- What are Visual Motor Skills?
- Visual Motor Skills Milestones
- What is Visual Perception?
- Check out this post on types of eye specialists
- You’ll also find great info on behavioral optometrists
A final note to parents of a child in therapy
There is a lot to consider when it comes to occupational therapy for your child. One thing is for certain, though: in occupational therapy, dreams and that far-reaching goal does become possible. Whether it’s getting your child to follow morning routines, banishing picky eating, or helping your kiddo to regulate their emotions, occupational therapy can help.
Occupational therapists use play, activities, and strategies that address underlying areas so that your child can accomplish the goals they have for themselves, too. From learning to ride a bike, learning cartwheels, or mastering climbing that tree.
One thing is for certain; having a child in therapy that is led by an occupational therapist will lead to organizing, motivating, and fun play that drives independence in your child!
Be sure to reach out to your child’s occupational therapist with specific questions!
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.