What is pediatric occupational therapy and how can it help my child? Occupational therapy is an allied health profession devoted to helping individuals with motor and behavioral problems learn how to perform purposeful activities. The purposeful activity of children includes: playing, climbing, swinging, jumping, running, bike riding, drawing, cutting and writing to name a few. The child’s occupation is to develop play, social, self care, gross, fine, sensory, visual and perceptual motor skills along with preacademic and academic skills. Through activities the child’s response to the environment becomes more organized and efficient.
My child’s teacher said my child may have sensory integration dysfunction, what does that mean?
Sensory integration is a specialty area of practice within the field of occupational therapy. When we think of the senses we generally think of sight, sound, smell and taste. In addition to these senses, occupational therapists are concerned with the senses of touch, movement and postural responses to the sensation of gravity and movement. Just as the eyes detect visual information and relay it to the brain for interpretation and action, other sensory receptors pick up and relay information to the brain for interpretation and purposeful response. Many of our sensory processes take play within the nervous system at an unconscious level. Cells within the skin send information about light touch, pain, temperature and pressure to the brain. Structures in the inner ear along with our eyes detect movement and changes in position of the head. The vestibular system allows us to maintain our balance while engaged in physical activity. The proprioceptive system gives us a sense of where we are in space and allows us to move our arms and legs in a guided and controlled fashion. An adequately functioning sensory system is crucial to helping us interact with others and the environment. This interaction between the senses and higher cortical functions is complex and necessary in order for a person to interpret a situation accurately and make an appropriate response. It is this organization of the senses that is termed sensory integration. Pediatric occupational therapists work with infants and young children to facilitate an adequately functioning feedback loop between the sensory systems and the brain allowing for the development of appropriate skills and self-regulation.
How do I know if my child needs occupational therapy services?
The decision to pursue occupational therapy services for your child is a very personal one. There are a number of reasons that a pediatrician, teacher or parent may decide that it is time to act. Usually, there are a number of concerns in one or more of the following areas:
Difficulty with coordination either gross motor, fine motor or visual motor (for instance difficulty holding and controlling a pencil as well as other children their age
The child is overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights or sounds. Difficulty tolerating touch sensations may be exhibited in a child having difficulty sitting close to peers in circle time or standing in line at school.
Under reactivity to sensory stimulation, this may be exhibited by children who are constantly seeking input of various types.
Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low.
Increasing frustration or feelings of failure.
Difficulty with learning self care skills: dressing, fastening clothing or independent feeding
Poor organization of behavior.
Difficulty making and keeping friends.
Difficulty learning new and unfamiliar tasks.
Difficulty with learning to write or complete school work or household chores in a timely manner
Why does my child need to have an evaluation and treatment plan?
The evaluation determines your child’s strengths and weakness in various areas of development We use the information gathered in the evaluation to determine the nature of services needed and to write specific treatment goals, as well as, to measure your child’s progress. Most insurance companies require an evaluation and treatment plan to consider reimbursement for services rendered. Depending on the age of the child and reason for referral, the evaluation usually takes from 1-2 hours. For families coming to pursue work in the DIR/Floortime Model ® an additional session may need to be scheduled. The recommendations for treatment and the written treatment plan are based on the results of the evaluation and the concerns of the parents.
If my child needs occupational therapy how long does it last?
Each child is very different and courses of therapy can range from 3-6 months to more typically 18-24 months depending on the severity of issues. We have found that children who come regularly to their scheduled appointments and follow home programs make the most progress.
After I schedule the evaluation what should I tell my child?
If your child is old enough to have a conversation chances are he/she has already told you some things are difficult for them or they don’t like school. A conversation noting these concerns: “I know you don’t like writing, dressing or feel uncomfortable with standing in line with your friends (or whatever the presenting problem may be) etc. We are going to see a special teacher to see if she can make some of these things easier for you. She is going to play some games with you to see what can help you and help me learn to help you too.” Most children are relieved to hear that their parents understand that some things are hard for them and that they are going to get some special help. The evaluation is done in a fun way and is like playing games at a table and playing on an indoor playground.