Parents are often confused when they’re told that their child would benefit from occupational therapy. Often, the first question that comes to mind is, “Why does my child need work-related treatment, when he still hasn’t mastered tying his shoes?”
Well, it turns out that this is one of those situations where you shouldn’t judge a book by its name, or something like that. It turns out that occupational therapy is very valuable for motor skills and very enjoyable for children. Like most therapy models, they don’t see it as therapy or ‘work’. Instead, occupational therapy for children is a play-based therapy designed to strengthen fine and gross motor skills. It’s also used to help children cope with sensory processing disorder.
Sensory processing disorder affects the daily lives of many children. What may look like a child having a temper tantrum, is really sometimes just a child having a difficult time coping with sensory input. It might be triggered by the way something smells, sounds or feels. It could be something as simple as a tag in the back of their shirt.
“My daughter is crying and pulling at her shirt screaming that the tag is digging into her back! We are in the middle of the store and people are staring at me to get control of my child! The next thing I know, she is in the middle of the floor with her shoes off crying about the line in her socks and how it feels on her toes. When I pick her up off of the floor her back arches backward and she is screaming for me to put her down. At that point, I just grab my purse and take her out to the car where I buckle her in her car seat as quickly as possible so I can leave without one more person pointing at me. My child has sensory processing disorder. She does not like tags on her clothing touching her skin or the lines on the socks touching her feet. When I pick her up, she does not want to be cuddled and goes into a complete meltdown. My daughter completely overacts to the sensory input she receives. The question I have is, how can I help her?”
Without the help of occupational therapy these tantrums would continue. Occupational Therapists use numerous techniques to help calm the sensory system and helps the body receive the input that it craves. Sensory processing disorder makes it really hard for kids to function at school, in public and at home.
Occupational therapy (or “OT”) is an interactive and complex form of therapy that is catered to a child’s sensory processing. A session with an occupational therapist is much like when grandma comes over with new toys, fresh cookies, and gives you undivided attention for 2 hours. During a session, an occupational therapist will use various techniques that provide a certain level of ‘input’ that a child with developmental disabilities doesn’t naturally receive in their day-to-day life. During an OT session, kids might be rolling around on padded mats, jumping around in a ball pit, riding modified tricycles, and/or swinging in a teardrop shaped swing.
Occupational therapists are also sensory geniuses when it comes to understanding why certain textures, flavors, and/or shapes turn your pleasant mealtime into a 4-hour tantrum. They can also help acclimate picky eaters or simply get children more comfortable with varied textures. Occupational therapy is a wonderful resource in the collaborative care of a child.