My Child has been referred to Occupational Therapy! What is it? Does he really need it?

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What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy, otherwise known as “OT” is a holistic profession that helps people, across all ages, achieve independence in their daily life activities or occupations. As therapists we make use of these occupations as both the intervention and outcome of therapy, hence the name occupational therapy.

In the paediatric setting, therapists make use of and engage a child in their primary childhood occupation – PLAY. Through the use of play, therapists are able to use their expertise to help children prepare for and perform important skills needed for learning, social interaction and functional activities such as tying shoelaces, eating and dressing. Thus they would look for an activity that is meaningful to that child and use that to develop the skills needed. Typically, this includes strengthening and mobilising various muscle groups on a Gross- and Fine-motor level, the development of bilateral coordination, praxis (motor planning), visual perception and visual-motor skills. Therapists also take into account the effect of the physical and social environment on a child’s performance.

How is OT valuable in a school setting?

Occupational therapy is effective in helping children develop skills in areas underlying and supporting school performance. A child’s occupational performance may be impaired by a physical, developmental, sensory, attention and/or learning challenge. A therapist may assist by doing a classroom observation where they analyse and make physical modifications to enable a child, such as their sitting position in relation to the board or their desk height. Therapists’ work closely with teachers to ensure that a child’s sensory and learning needs are catered for in the modern day classroom.

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How could your child benefit from occupational therapy?
Occupational therapists work with a variety of diagnoses such as spectrum disorders (including Autism and Asperger’s), developmental delay, cognitive delays, sensory processing disorder, down syndrome and cerebral palsy to name but a few. Other more common challenges in the school environment include…

Reduced Muscle Strength
What does this look like?
Their muscles could be described as “floppy” and they tire easily when engaging in sports or colouring tasks. They have difficulty sitting upright in their chair, or slouch when standing or sitting on the carpet.

Poor Bilateral Coordination
What does this look like?
Children have trouble using both hands and legs simultaneously in a coordinated way (E.g star jumps, clapping or jumping sequences). They may also struggle to learn gross motor tasks such as riding a bike, skipping, or self care tasks such as tying shoelaces or doing up buttons during dressing

Sensory Processing Difficulties
What does this look like?
These children are either over sensitive or have decreased reactions to sensory stimulation including touch, taste, vision, sound, and movement. They can struggle to pay attention, particularly in a multi-sensory environment such as classroom. They may also have difficulty understanding the properties of certain sensory input, e.g. understanding where their bodies are in space or knowing exactly how to grade the pressure of their touch such as holding an egg without breaking it. For a more detailed description please refer to our sensory processing blog.

Fine-Motor Difficulties
What does this look like?
They may hold their pencil with an inefficient grip or get tired quickly during colouring or writing activities. They have trouble staying inside the lines and their work can look messy as a result. They tend to avoid all types of desk-top work.

Visual Motor and Visual Perceptual Difficulties
What does this look like?
Children often have trouble learning to read and write. They struggle to see differences between numbers, letters and shapes and often reverse, transpose or invert them. They have difficulties spacing their work correctly on the page, and the sizing of their letters are often mismatched.

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Where to from here?

If you feel that your child has difficulty in one or more of the above categories, it is always helpful to FIRST consider how it affects them in their daily lives whether it be at school or how they engage with their environment through play and social interaction. Chat to various people including your child’s teacher to gain some more insight into their school performance and social skills. If you feel that these difficulties are affecting their ability to engage independently, then you may want to consider an assessment with a therapist in your area.

Author: Tamlyn Barter

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