Many people think occupational therapy is just for adults who need help with their activities of daily living, also called their “occupations,” such as tasks like bathing, dressing, improving function after injury or illness, and many other situations. But did you know that there are many therapies that are geared for children of all ages? Here is a partial list of the many, many services that occupational therapists can help kids with:
- Occupational therapy in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU): In the unit, therapists work with the fragile premature newborns who are highly sensitive to their environment. They are particularly sensitive to light, noise and touch. The therapist helps control these factors and helps the parent learn to, as well. For example, a parent can learn to hold a preemie a certain way to help manage muscle tone and range of motion problems. The infant may also need help in being fed – sucking, swallowing, and breathing. The occupational therapist can team up with a speech therapist to help coax the infant to ingest food more independently.
- Older babies: Babies may show developmental delays or need help compensating for illnesses or injuries. For an example of an occupational therapist working with a baby, see this video. The child had a head injury which weakened the left side of his body.
- Toddlers: What are the “occupations” of a toddler? Among others, they are rest, sleep, play, education, social participation, dressing, and bathing. Toddlers may have developmental delays in these and other areas. The child is evaluated through screenings, assessments, and family interviews, and an individualized family plan is drawn up. Therapy can be aimed at improving social skills, advancing motor co-ordination, independent self-feeding, creating family-friendly schedules, and even helping with potty training. Work on fine-motor skills can help with drawing, buttoning, and using scissors. Large-motor skills work can help with jumping, hopping, managing playground equipment, stacking blocks, throwing a ball, and other activities.
- School – Age Children: Occupational therapists work in the schools, as well as in preschools, clinics, hospitals, homes, and other settings. The child receiving the service in school often has at least one disability. According to the American Occupational Therapy Associations AOTA), occupational therapy “works to ensure students can participate in the full breadth of school activities – from paying attention in class, concentrating on the task at hand, holding a pencil, musical instrument or book in the easiest way, or just behaving appropriately in class.” The therapist usually consults with the teacher to evaluate the child, and may work with the school team or one-on-one. Parents will be involved. Kids who need therapy may have one of these disabilities: traumatic injuries to the head and spine, learning problems, autism, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, mental or behavioral issues, developmental delays, spina bifida, and many others. A common problem is handwriting. The therapist works with the teacher to find the underlying problem with this “occupation,” and works on improving the fine motor skills needed for grasping and writing.
- Teens: Important therapies involve teens with autism spectrum.disorders. Parents are instrumental in helping their child achieve goals, and the therapist can encourage the parents to participate. The child may have trouble completing daily tasks and may need a firm schedule and time management skills. He may need to find calming and/or stimulating activities and may also need coaching for upcoming social events because autism sufferers have weak communication skills and miss social cues. The goal is to promote sociability.
As you can see, children can be helped in many ways by occupational therapy.For further information, visit the American Occupational Therapy Organization (AOTA).