Occupational Therapy in the pediatric setting focuses on a child’s ability to engage in activities of their daily life. For children this includes: play, self-care, and school participation. A variety of factors can hinder a child’s ability to engage meaningfully in their daily life appropriately and result in frustration/temper tantrums, poor attention/performance in school, or inappropriate social interaction. An Occupational Therapist will assess a child’s fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and sensory processing skills all of which are important for a child to succeed in their daily life and meet age appropriate milestones.
A variety of children benefit from OT services whether they have a medical diagnosis or not though some children are considered to be at risk if they have a diagnosis of: Autism Spectrum Disorder; birth injuries/birth defects; Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, Developmental Delays, behavioral problems, or learning disabilities. If a child is observed to have delay in milestones as he or she compares to children their age (playing, eating, engaging socially, dressing), demonstrates excessive outbursts or tantrums, or is having difficulty in school an OT assessment is recommended.
An Occupational Therapist will assess the following skills and these skills may be impacting a child’s ability to function, socialize, and learn.
- Fine Motor Skills: simply is the ability for a child to use the small muscles of their hands and fingers to complete a variety of activities including feeding themselves by picking up small foods with their fingers or using a fork/spoon, coloring with a crayon, buttoning a shirt or tying shoe laces, and hand writing.
- Visual Motor Skills: these skills are required for a child to efficiently coordinate use of hands and eyes. VM skills also consist of visual perception, eye-hand coordination, and visual processing skills that all play a role in the overarching skills of Visual Motor Integration. If a child presents with difficulties in the following they could have impaired Visual Motor Skills: letter reversal, poor handwriting, difficulty copying from a board on the wall, difficulty playing toss or kicking a ball, difficulty copying shapes or patterns, or if a young child has difficulty with self feeding.
- Sensory Processing Skills: sensory skills include vision, hearing, touch (tactile), smell, taste, vestibular (for balance and head position in space), and proprioception (information from muscles and joints). A parent or teacher may notice that a child is picky eater, sensitive to noise or light, is very clumsy, prefers only a certain clothing or fabric, or may have frequent melt downs for no observed reason. An OT can assess a child to determine if they have Sensory Processing Disorder. This is simply the way the child “takes in” senses (as listed above) and reacts to these senses. A child’s brain may not be able to process these senses the same way you and I do resulting the observed behavior listed above.
In conclusion, if you feel that your child may be falling behind compared to a sibling or friend, these are some signs where an occupational therapy evaluation would benefit: difficulty with self feeding, dressing, bathing, or grooming; demonstrates frequent and unexplained tantrums; is clumsy, poor balance, reluctant to play toss, or ride a bike; has difficulty in school or demonstrates poor social skills.