Occupational Therapy (OT) is a form of holistic therapy that aims to help people develop the skills needed to get through their daily activities. The activities themselves are used as the basis for the therapy, which is customized to each patient’s needs. In terms of why Occupational Therapists work with children, it’s typically to help them after sustaining an injury or due to a disability. According to the American Occupational Therapy Organization:
“Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing support for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.”
When it comes to children with special needs, Occupational Therapy can help them not only with their daily tasks and activities, but it can also help to improve their self-confidence in school situations, and even while interacting and playing with other children. KidsHealth.org lists out different ways in which OT might benefit kids with special needs:
There are several different conditions that OT can be helpful for as a means of treatment, including Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, and Traumatic Brain Injury. Therapists will work together with the parents to customize a treatment plan based on which skills need to be focused on and developed.
For children with Autism, OT can help them with sensory issues, and also motor skills, learning strategies, help with eating and grooming, and play skills. According to Jane Case-Smith, EdD, OTR/L, FAOTA, professor and director of the Occupational Therapy Division of the School of Allied Medical Professions at Ohio State University, Occupational Therapists can help parents understand why their child is exhibiting certain behaviors. In an article on AOTA.org, she is quoted saying:
“Sometimes [parents] are very aware of these behaviors -- that the child is rigid, that they won’t eat certain foods or don’t like certain odors -- but nobody’s really put it all together for them.”
This is where the role of the Occupational Therapist comes in. By helping the child with learning to do everyday tasks, it may in turn help manage their sensory issues.
OT can be highly beneficial in helping to improve the quality of life for kids with Cerebral Palsy. Therapists focus on skills that will help the child improve his/her daily routine, which will contribute to a better sense of independence. These include both skills in the home and skills at school, such as eating, dressing, grooming, writing, grasping objects, sitting at a school desk, handwriting, reading books, opening a locker, and interacting with family members, teachers, and classmates. OT will also help the parents learn how to navigate the child’s daily routine and will teach them how to better assist them with daily tasks.
Exercises used in OT to develop skills in kids with Cerebral Palsy include activities that focus on muscle development and strength, upper body strength and stability, coordination issues, and visual perception and visual motor skills.
In addition to helping children learn daily tasks and routines, Occupational Therapists can also teach skills to kids with Spina Bifida such as learning to put on and take off braces and orthotic devices. For school-aged children, the therapist can help the child adjust to a school environment by visiting the school to make sure the child has the equipment he/she needs to succeed, in addition to helping the child learn motor skills to adapt to school.
Just as is the case with Cerebral Palsy, the therapist will work to help the child with tasks that will help him/her become more independent. Therapists can even work with babies who have Spina Bifida to help their development by teaching them to use their hands, explore their surroundings, and to learn to move.
Traumatic Brain Injury:
Since children who have experienced pediatric brain injury face a new reality where they will need to relearn tasks and adjust to their daily routines, Occupational Therapists can help them to develop these skills. GilletteChildrens.org explains OT in a way children can understand:
“After a brain injury you’ll likely have changes with your day-to-day life as you heal. Sometimes, skills and abilities return on their own. Other times, you might need some help. Occupational therapists can help you work with areas that continue to be difficult. We’ll provide you with ideas on how you can strengthen skills and make changes to your environment. Our goal is to help you return to school/work and recreational activities and be independent.”
This video from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital gives a glimpse into what is involved with Occupational Therapy for kids, as well as explaining the difference between OT and Physical Therapy.
Where Can I Find an Occupational Therapist for My Child?
Talk to your pediatrician or family practitioner, as he/she will likely have recommendations for Occupational Therapists in your area. You can also contact the Occupational Therapy Licensing Board or Agency in your state to make sure you choose a licensed therapist.
Most insurance plans cover Occupational Therapy, but you should call your provider to obtain exact specifics of the plan. Some plans may require a referral from the child’s primary physician. It’s also important to note that if your child is in school and in a special education program, he/she may be able to receive OT that is paid for by the school.
Have you had experience with OT as part of your child’s treatment? Send us an email at email@example.com and let us know. If you are an Occupational Therapist or practitioner, we invite you to join our practitioner registry.