A child's job, or occupation, is to play, to be independent in self-care activities, and to succeed in school. Occupational therapists treat children with disorders that may inhibit their ability to be successful in these areas. An occupational therapist will address this by teaching fine motor activities (how to hold and manipulate objects), visual-motor activities (eye-hand coordination), activities to increase upper body strength and endurance, and how to appropriately react to sensory information and self-care skills. An occupational therapist can also evaluate and treat children with feeding concerns such as difficulty latching or nursing, limited diet, over-stuffing of mouth, and refusing to try new foods.
The occupational therapy treatment session will last 45 minutes depending on the child’s endurance. During a typical treatment session, the therapist will plan a fun and play-based activities geared towards each child. A therapist will use activities such as swinging, moving their bodies, playing with shaving cream or finger paint, touching different textures, or experiencing different tastes and smells to activate the senses. A child may also practice other skills such as dressing (tying shoes or buttoning shirt), brushing teeth, coloring, and cutting.
Children who can benefit from occupational therapy may have been diagnosed with:
Sensory integration teaches a child how to interpret information from the senses; taste, vision, smell, hearing, and movement as well as information to the muscles and joints (proprioception). Sensory integration dysfunction is a neurological disorder in which information is sensed normally but perceived abnormally. Information from the senses is processed incorrectly resulting in confusion or distress. For example, a child might have an extreme fear of his feet leaving the ground or of movement activities. On the other hand, a child might seek out movement by excessively spinning, interfering with that child’s ability to function in a classroom setting. The goal of sensory integration therapy performed by an occupational therapist is to calm and organize a child’s body so they are able to learn new skills and increase their confidence and success.
The term dysgraphia means difficulty with writing. Children with this diagnosis may have difficulties writing within an allotted time frame, trouble with spelling, letter reversals, mixed case of letters and difficulty generating thoughts and ideas during writing activities. For most children, after they learn how to write, the correct process becomes automatic. For children diagnosed with dysgraphia this is never the case. Writing is a difficult and laborious process. Children with dysgraphia will benefit from occupational therapy by using all of the senses to retrain the brain how to efficiently write in cursive or print.
Every child is different. Some children benefit from several sessions while some children may benefit from ongoing therapy. For instance, a child with weak hands or poor pencil grasp may need 3 to 4 sessions with a therapist. A longer duration of therapy, with incremental breaks, may be required in order to address delayed developmental milestones. Therapy is beneficial as long as the child enjoys it and is developmentally gaining or improving skills.