Occupational therapy is often mistaken for something related to career counseling. In fact, occupational therapists are not worried about careers; they are focused on their work that gives daily life meaning.
Occupational therapy helps patients recover or develop skills required for the activities of daily living, including self-care, leisure, independent living and work. Therapists work in hospitals, in schools, in nursing homes and with patients in their own homes.
People who benefit from occupational therapy or OT, include those who have had autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, dyslexia and other developmental disorders.
In this article, we will review the skills that an occupational therapist can address for children with developmental delays.
Occupational therapy in autism
Occupational therapy practitioners use a host of techniques to address and promote skills needed to participate fully in day-to-day life activities. Children with autism and sensory processing difficulties often get occupational therapy services as a means to build skills in the areas needed to complete daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, completing schoolwork, handwriting, engaging in play and more. With the prevalence of autism estimated to be 1 in 68 children, it is vital to consider which treatment is most effective for helping individuals with autism and their families. Below is a listing of some of the most common areas addressed in occupational therapy for autism.
Emotion regulation skills – Emotion regulation skills involve the skills needed to contain and cope with emotions. This can include identifying emotions in one’s self and in others, understanding different emotions, and being able to find out a helpful coping skill. Children with autism generally struggle in this area. Often, they have a tough time understanding emotions and identifying ways to manage intense emotions. An occupational therapist can assist your child with all areas described above. They may use a slew of methods including role-play activities, games, video modeling and one-on-one practice.
Social skills and peer interactions – Some of the most common social skills and peer interactions skills include greeting others appropriately like using eye contact when speaking, understanding the flow of conversation, being able to read other’s cues and body language and understanding how other person is feeling or what s/he might be thinking.
Sensory processing – It is reckoned that between 50 and 70% of children with autism have trouble with sensory processing. Sensory processing involves the ability to take in and interpret the information that is occurring within our environment.
Motor Skills – Gross motor skills involve large movements, such as running, walking, and moving our limbs. Fine motor skills involve the small movements of the hand, such as picking something up, writing, transferring objects between the fingers.
Family routines and time management – Children with autism tend to do best with structure, consistency and routine. Many children with autism also have very strong visual skills and find that visual aids are useful tools for them. An occupational therapist will work by keeping in mind your family’s daily routines and your child’s tasks that need to be finished.
Occupational therapy in ADHD
An occupational therapist helps children with ADHD to improve certain skills, such as:
- Physical coordination
- Ability to do daily activities like taking a shower, organizing their backpack, or making their bed, quickly and neatly
- Control their energy levels in order to rein in hyperactivity
The first line of things here is to evaluate the child. Occupational therapists usually do this with input from you. During the evaluation, the therapist will assess how ADHD influences your child’s schoolwork, social life and home life. The therapist will also do a test to evaluate your child’s strengths and weaknesses and appropriate ways to address his/her issues will be recommended. During a therapy session, the occupational therapist and your child might play games, such as catching or hitting a ball to improve coordination, take part in activities to work out anger and aggression, teach new ways to do daily tasks like brushing teeth, getting dressed, or feeding himself/herself.
Occupational therapist will also try techniques to improve focus on handwriting, social skills, work on time management, ways to stay organized in the classroom and at home.
Occupational therapy in Down syndrome
Occupational therapists focus on the child’s ability to master skills for independence. These can include self-care skills (feeding, dressing, grooming, etc.), fine and gross motor skills, skills related to school performance (e.g.: printing, cutting, etc.), play and leisure skills.
Occupational therapist may become involved to help the child with oral-motor feeding problems. Due to hypotonia and weakness of the muscles of the cheeks, tongue and lips, feeding is difficult for some infants with Down syndrome. Occupational therapists suggest positioning and feeding techniques, and can be involved in giving lessons on feeding studies, if necessary.
Occupational therapists and physical therapists work in tandem to help the young child develop gross motor milestones (e.g.: sitting, crawling, standing, walking). OTs work with the child at this stage to encourage arm and hand movements that lay the foundation for later developing fine motor skills. The low muscle tone and loose ligaments at the joints associated with Down syndrome are indeed challenges to early motor development and occupational therapy can help your child overcome those challenges.
Occupational therapy in dyslexia
Dyslexia is a very common learning difference, affecting 1 in 5 children worldwide. Although dyslexia is primarily a language processing difference, occupational therapists are in a unique position to help a child with dyslexia by addressing key components of skills such as oculomotor function, executive functioning, and motor coordination.
Because of the unique learning style of these children, it is important that occupational therapists become familiar with manifestations of dyslexia, comorbid conditions, best practices, and the ways through which these children can learn fast.
By familiarizing oneself with characteristics of dyslexia, basic tenets of effective teaching, and comorbidities, occupational therapists position themselves as a bridge between the child with dyslexia and other professionals. An occupational therapist who understands dyslexia will be in a sweet spot to conduct evaluations and create treatment plans that serve to enhance the learning style of a child with dyslexia.