April is National Occupational Therapy Month; a time to raise awareness of what OT is all about. OTs work with persons with disabilities to improve functional skills and participation in daily tasks. Pediatric occupational therapy is a specialty area of practice that addresses child development, activity participation and performance skills so that children with disabilities can achieve their highest level of independence and success in daily activities.
Occupational Therapy derived its name from the use of “occupation” to refer to the roles, routines and activities that we engage in. A child’s primary occupations include those of family member (son/daughter, sibling, etc), student or learner, friend and player. A child may also have occupations such as athlete, musician, artist, caregiver for a pet, babysitter and so forth. Occupational therapists evaluate a child’s developmental skills and assess strengths/impairments related to their ability to participate in daily activities. Treatment is designed to help develop skills, adapt the environment, educate caregivers and improve participation in daily activities through the use of purposeful activities that are related to the occupations of the child. The goal of OT is to help the child progress developmentally and participate in daily occupations to their highest potential.
To the casual observer, a child engaged in occupational therapy may appear to be doing nothing more than playing. This is because a child’s primary occupation is that of “player.” It is through play that young children learn about their world and develop skills for living. An OT session might involve use of gross motor play like navigating through an obstacle course of climbing, crawling, jumping, swinging and rolling. Play activities are chosen to address the needs of the child and could include fine motor activities (handling small game pieces), visual motor activities (doing puzzles, drawing), or social interaction (turn taking in a game, compromising to choose play activities). An OT is trained to analyze tasks or activities and choose those that will be motivating to the client, can be adapted to the “just right challenge” and meet therapy goals for improving skills and function.
OT includes using treatment activities to improve skills, teaching family and other caregivers about the child’s needs, educating others about environmental modifications or task adaptations to support the child’s participation and empowering the child and family toward self-advocacy for future needs. Therapy goals are always directed toward increasing independence not only in a specific task but in the child and family being able to meet their own needs when direct treatment is over. Treatment in a clinic setting should always be focused on helping the child to attain a level of function where they are able to participate in home and community activities in a more effective manner so that natural developmental processes can take over.
While children may receive OT services in the school setting under an IEP or 504 Plan, it is important to note the differences between OT in an educational setting versus a clinical setting. In the school, OT is provided to support the child’s participation in school related tasks and all services must relate directly to the child’s needs in the educational setting. Services in the school are likely to target specific skills such as handwriting or producing written work or regulating behaviors and social skills in the classroom. This is in contrast to clinic based or “private” OT services which are not limited in the same manner. Many children receive school based services but also require additional OT services to address all of their needs.
At STEPS for Kids, our occupational therapists specialize in providing comprehensive developmental services focusing on a child’s strengths to support their skill development in other areas. Focusing on functional outcomes as identified during the evaluation through assessment and parent interview, our OT staff uses developmentally appropriate activities to engage children in motivating play that encourages active participation and skill acquisition. We provide parent education and support for understanding the child’s needs, accessing resources and empowering families for the future.
Wondering whether your child may benefit from occupational therapy? STEPS for Kids offers free screenings that will help you know whether a full evaluation is needed. Please contact us to schedule a screening or ask about our services. We are happy to discuss your concerns any time.
Looking for more information? The American Occupational Therapy Association has more information about OT as well as tips for many aspects of child development and daily activities.