What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy is a client-centred health profession that helps people across their lifespan to achieve optimal health and wellbeing. Occupational therapists want to help people where they live, where they work, where they learn and where they play.
Paediatric occupational therapists work with children in homes, hospitals and schools and wherever else they need support to engage in the activities they need or want to participate in. Paediatric OTs also coach and support caregivers of children on the best ways to ensure optimal development in children and to create environments where children can be included in all the daily activities.
Children’s main occupations are self-care, play and learning. When a child shows delays in mastering typical activities, or displays unusual or disruptive behavior, the OT is often the first professional to work with her. The paediatric OT works with the child’s caregivers to identify the obstacles that are preventing the child in achieving success in these areas as well as to identify the child’s strengths that can be used to develop these areas that are still challenging.
What are signs that my child may benefit from occupational therapy?
Any signs that suggest that your child is being prevented from participating successfully in an activity that he/she is required or would like to do may indicate that your child requires a little extra support to achieve success in that area. Supporting the child enables him/her to develop important skills but also creates a sense of achievement and nurtures the development of a positive self esteem.
The following are abilities that will help the child to grow and develop through his childhood years:
- managing emotions such as anger, anxiety, jealousy, disappointment, frustration
- regulating energy levels, e.g. matching energy level to the activity
- managing behaviour e.g. doing or saying something without thinking it through or taking very long to start or complete a task
- managing own thoughts, e.g. positive self-talk, trying new things, accepting when mistakes are made
- sleeping (falling asleep, deep restful sleep, self-soothing when woken at night)
- dressing (tolerating textures, orientating the clothes correctly, fasteners, completing it in a short time, etc)
- grooming difficulties (tolerating hair brushing/ cutting, taking a shower, understanding the importance of grooming)
- toileting (toilet training, tolerating flushing noise, dry through the night, unsoiled clothes)
- eating (tolerating different textures, variety of foods, managing utensils)
- Creative play themes, imaginative play
- sharing, taking turns, waiting
- understanding rules
- opening and closing containers, manipulating small parts
- voice at right level for the situation
- reading body language and facial expressions
- understanding personal space
- initiating a conversation, joining in play, making friends
- Maintaining a conversation, friendship
- Directing and maintaining focus on an activity
- following routines in the child care centre, kinder or school
- sitting and listening during mat time or while working at a desk
- being an engaged member in group learning settings
- organising self and own belongings
- handling scissors, crayons, pencils
- acquiring prewriting and writing skills
- acquiring numeracy skills
- acquiring literacy skills
Why home and centre visits and not therapy in a clinic?
Children learn throughout the day during their everyday routines, play and interactions with others in their lives. Research shows us clearly that children learn most from the important people in their lives – their families, carers and educators.
We believe that the child’s parents and carers are the experts of their child. They see their child everyday and know the child’s strengths as well as what he/she finds challenging. They have a wealth of information on the approaches they have tried – some of which worked and some that did not. When we combine the parent’s/ carer’s knowledge of their child with our knowledge of how to enhance child development we become an amazing team who can create a focused intervention plan that has a high probability of success.
We want to coach and support the parents/carers to provide hands-on teaching and therapy to their child. We aim to incorporate these learning opportunities into the family’s daily routines, to seamlessly become a part of those activities.
When we work in this way, therapy happens multiple times during the day, as opposed to the traditional clinic session where the child gets therapy once a week or once a fortnight.
What does a home visit look like?
You and your therapist will try to find a time for a visit that fits in with your family’s routines and goals. Examples may be a visit at lunch time if your child has difficulties with eating, or just before nap time if your baby struggles to settle.
The therapist will spend a few minutes with you to get an update on what has been happening since the previous visit, what you have tried, the successes and challenges. Together you decide what the day’s visit will look like. Sometimes it may involve the therapist working with your child, showing you techniques to enhance the child’s participation in a task or routine. Examples may be using a toy in a specific way for a child with cerebral palsy to elicit a specific type of movement.
At another time it may involve talking through an area that is challenging for the child, e.g. exploring the triggers of a meltdown and brainstorming how in future this can be managed in the best possible way.
At times it may be trialling different strategies or tools to support the child’s ability to perform an activity, for example trialling different types of sensory input to calm an overstimulated baby or finding the best approach to learning how to write.
Or it may involve developing a resource together to help your child, for example developing a social script for a child who does not know how to make a friend with photos of your child in that setting, or making a visual prompt for a child to help him to remember what is expected during a routine such as mat time at kinder.