How Occupational therapy is used for children

How Occupational therapy is used for children

What is Occupational Therapy?

The most crucial years that shape a child's development are the early years of the child’s life. In these years, the child’s cognitive, physical and social development takes place, especially the first three years are very critical since the brain evolves in these years. But not every kid passes through these developmental milestones successfully. Some kids do not mature the way they should and this leads to restricted or delayed advancement or progression. If the child faces these problems and needs support to develop optimally, occupational therapy is of immense help.

Occupational therapy is not only for adults, it is for kids too. The child can have improved cognition, enhanced development and minimal developmental delay, and communication skills are also improved with the help of this therapy. According to the child’s ability or condition, the therapy is carried out. First, the kid is evaluated by the practitioner, and then therapy procedure is set up. This is to enable new learning and to improve processing. Several procedures are used in occupational therapy. 

The main focus of occupational therapy is to help people with sensory, physical and cognitive disability. It helps them be as independent as possible. The cognitive, physical, motor and sensory skills of kids with various needs can be improved with occupational therapy. It also helps them to improve their self esteem and helps them achieve a sense of achievement. Occupational therapy not only deals with physical well being, but also addresses social, psychological and environmental factors. 

Exercises, strategies, activities and accommodations are used in occupational therapy to help kids develop skills so that they learn to become independent. Occupational therapy can help you if you notice that certain developmental milestones are missing in your child. The occupational therapist works with many different types of activities with the kids. Some of these include:

  • Self care - These include activities of daily living such as using eating utensils, brushing teeth, buttoning clothes.
  • Fine motor skills - This includes using scissors, grasping and controlling a pencil.
  • Hand eye coordination - This includes copying in a notebook from the board, writing on a classroom whiteboard.
  • Gross motor skills- This includes working on core muscles for sitting posture, doing jumping jacks.
  • Sensory responses - Helping kids with sensory processing issues to respond to sensory inputs in a more comfortable way.
  • Planning and organization - Using a graphic organizer for writing

Occupational therapy has lots of benefits. It can be more effective for the child the sooner the child starts the therapy. Some kids are able to complete their school work with more success and some are able to concentrate faster. Some learn to do their tasks on their own and have increased self confidence.

Activities in Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the child. The therapist creates a program for the child to work on. Things like strength, coordination, organization, focus and sensory reactions are addressed.

If the child is having issues focusing then before he does any school work, a full body exercise may be recommended by the occupational therapist. Trampoline play, animal poses or yoga can help kids exert enough energy.

Multisensor techniques may be used in occupational therapy for help if the child has handwriting issues. For example, the child may trace a letter on sandpaper or with fingers in shaving cream, the child may form letters or the child may use a tracing app with the help of a stylus on a tablet.

How Occupational Therapy helps?

Occupational therapy may be a good option if the child has certain learning or attention issues. Kids can become more and more independent and can complete tasks better, this is especially true in young children.

  • Kids who struggle with fine and gross motor skills, like those with dyspraxia can take help from occupational therapy. To help build strength and control, kids may pick up items like tweezers. This is to practice fine motor skills.
  • To help with hand dominance issues, they may cut out things.
  • Kids may do jumping jack, run obstacle courses or catch balls of different sizes to help with balance and coordination. This helps build gross motor skills.
  • For kids with sensory processing issues, occupational therapy can be of great help. Some kids with sensory issues overreact to outside stimulation, become hyperactive and overwhelmed. Others may seek out sensory stimulation and are under reactive. The occupational therapist may design a sensory chart if the child has these challenges. This plan is carefully designed and it consists of series of accommodations and physical activities tailored in such a way that each child gets the sensory input that he needs. To help kids who seek or avoid certain kinds of sensory inputs, therapist may also use heavy work.
  • Other learning and attention issues that the therapist may help the kid with include
    • Visual processing issues
    • Dyslexia
    • Dysgraphia
    • Executive functioning issues

Benefits of Occupational Therapy

Numerous benefits are associated with occupational therapy. This therapy is used for a wide range of diseases and disorders. Through this therapy, the child is prepared to live a life that is healthy and normal.

Some other benefits include:

  • General activities of daily life - Aid should be provided to the child facing difficulties in daily activities such as toileting, dressing, drawing and writing etc. Self help skills can be developed in these children with the help of this therapy.
  • Sensory processing issues - Generally, it is observed that children with sensory processing issues find it difficult to synthesize information in the basic five senses (sight, smell, touch, heart and taste). Extreme sensitivity, under sensitivity or both is experienced by the child at school, home or elsewhere. Suck kids face difficulty in paying attention and hence they get distracted by loud fire alarms or other such things. They avoid going out during recess and other activities. The skills can be regained by these young ones and the issue can also be addressed in a proper manner with the help of occupational therapy.
  • Cerebral palsyOccupational therapy is beneficial for individuals suffering from cerebral palsy, muscular disorders and other disorders. Wheelchair is needed in such cases. The OT practitioner teaches the kid how to use the wheelchair properly to reach class on time and to get things out from the locker.
  • Kids with autistic spectrum disorder - Sensory processing disorder and autism are not the same, but are related to each other. A kid with SPD has less interest in activities, limited play skills, has trouble communicating with other people. A kid who has SPD may not have autism. By observing the behavior of the child and developing a plan for the child, the occupational therapy practitioner can help the child to gain these skills. A single ideal program does not exist and the OT uses different sets of methods and plans based on the child's behaviour and needs.  Interaction, puzzles are some of the activities that are included that can help to develop awareness and coordination in the child.
  • Fine and gross motor skills - In gross motor skills, movements of muscles in arms and legs are involved. In fine muscle skills, use of small muscles in forearm and fingers is included. If the child has trouble with these skills, the child will find difficulty in cycling, walking and other activities. Such conditions can be dealt with and eradicated with the help of occupational therapy.

Activities used in Occupational Therapy

A number of activities can be arranged for children with several diseases. The activities are designed differently for kids of various age groups. The activity depends on the condition and can be conducted in several places such as in the home, hospitals, schools, clinics, specialized center. 

Activities for Toddlers and Infants

Generally, infants face trouble sleeping at night. The common exercises included are bath time activities, gentle massage, feeding therapy activities and water therapy, using specialized toys and olfactory input activities in order to make them deal with light and sound.

  • Sensory integration activities - With the help of these activities, the child is able to respond to the environment more accurately.  These activities can be passive or active. You can make soft corners using soft furnishing in the room. For example, by letting the child lie down on a bed or mat and covering the child with blankets and pillows or by giving them a ball to squeeze or chew toys, a wonderful deep pressure with a calming effect can be provided.
  • Coordination activities - These are designed for the child’s legs and arms so that they can work in an effective way. Basically, these are divided into two broad categories:
    • Hand–eye coordination - For this, ask the child to hit the ball with a bat or catch a ball, etc.
    • Bilateral activities - The child is able to use both sides of the body in an accurate manner with the help of these activities. These activities include asking the child to roll out pastry sheets from play dough, the child can pull a rope hand-over–hand.
  • Visual perception activities- With the help of these activities, the information sent by eyes to the brain is well understood. Put objects on a tray and ask the child to recognize the objects placed on the tray. This will help them understand shapes and help form constancy. You can use any object at home for this activity. Books will help to teach them alphabets. It enhances the ability of the child. The child can draw lines, shapes and alphabets. To aid development process, you can use jigsaw puzzles.
  • Activities for fine and gross motor skills - For those having trouble using hands, forearms and fingers properly, fine motor skill activities are required. Simple exercises of arms, fingers and wrist is included in the basic therapy. These can help them perform regular work. They can be given safety scissors and can be told to cut out shapes from papers. Swimming, wheelbarrow walking, hopscotch, walking over an unstable surface, etc. are some of the activities included to help in gross motor skills.
  • Miscellaneous activities - These activities help keep the kids involved and also help improve the development process. These include making a play dough puzzle, painting with pom pom balls, cut out shapes from the dough or smash the dough, placing a coin in the container, etc.

Kids who might need Occupational Therapy

A child with medical problems might benefit from occupational therapy. The following may benefit from occupational therapy:

  • A child with birth defects or birth injuries
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Has a sensory processing disorder
  • Has learning problems
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • A child who has autism
  • If a child has orthopedic injuries or broken bones
  • Has a behavioral problem or mental health issue
  • Post surgical conditions
  • A child with developmental delays
  • Burns
  • Spina bifida
  • Cancer
  • Had traumatic amputations
  • Sever hand injuries
  • Has cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses that are chronic

Aim of Occupational Therapy

The aim of occupational therapy is

  • Help develop good handwriting skills by working on fine motor skills by grasping and releasing toys.
  • Address hand eye coordination to improve kids' play and school skills, - batting a ball, hitting a target.
  • Teach kids with severe developmental delays basic tasks - getting dressed, bathing, brushing teeth, feeding themselves.
  • Help kids with behavioral disorders to maintain positive behavior in all environments - deal with anger in positive way instead of acting out or hitting, participating in a physical activity or writing the feelings.
  • Teach kids with physical disability coordination skills required to feed themselves, increase handwriting speed and improvement in legibility, using a computer.
  • Evaluating the child's needs for specialized equipment such as bathing equipment, wheelchair, splints, communication aids, dressing devices.
  • Work with children with sensory and attention issues to help them improve their focus and social skills.