Occupational therapy is an amazing resource for many families! But what is it exactly? And how can you tell if your little one needs it? In short, occupational therapy is a therapy designed to help patients gain cognitive, physical, motor, and emotional skills that will improve their daily life. Functionality is a key focus for many: things like using eating utensils with confidence, coping with the emotional trauma that stifles relationship-building, and more. The goals for each OT plan vary client to client, catered specifically to their needs. Ultimately, occupational therapists want their clients to gain the ability to execute the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).
Maybe you're thinking that occupational therapy is intended only for those with physical limitations, like cerebral palsy. While someone with CP could benefit greatly from OT sessions, the short answer is: anyone who struggles in daily life would also benefit. This includes children (or adults!) with a traumatic history that has impacted their emotional well-being or responses to situations, premature infants, or those with developmental delays.
Did you know that speech therapy is a specific form of occupational therapy? The goal here is to empower the patient with tools that will help them join in actively with the social activity of verbal communication. OT can be used to prevent disease or disability progression, to gain new daily living skills, or even to restore lost functionality in terms of physical, cognitive, or emotional abilities. The ENOTHE terminology group defines "occupations" as:
"A group of activities that has personal and socio-cultural meaning, is named within a culture, and supports participation in society. Occupation can be categorized as self-care, productivity and/or leisure.”
Wow! That covers a pretty wide range of our daily accomplishments, doesn't it? Even something as standard as being able to speak clearly is a challenge for some. OT can help not only train or retrain the body to achieve functional speaking but can also foster a healthy sense of self. Positive social interaction and skill mastery creates a huge boost in confidence that can transform a child's outlook and attitude.
So when is it best to start a course of OT? Ideally, as soon as possible! There's no benefit to "waiting" if you notice an issue or anticipate a need. Since even premature babies can benefit from OT, you don't need to wait until year two to notice developmental delays. Early intervention can not only get them on the road to typical function faster but prevent any sort of compounding or increasing deficits.
Luckily, most occupational therapists will equip parents with exercises and techniques they can keep working on at home! The one-on-one time in OT sessions will enable children to practice without added distractions. Eventually, through the repetition of these tasks in the home, OT becomes a part of daily routine. This is when the real skill-building happens! When successful, OT helps children - and adults - join in meaningful daily activities with confidence. It's not about helping people be "average" - it's about helping them achieve their best quality of life.
Do you or your child attend OT sessions? Which techniques have you found most helpful? Share your success stories with me on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 with #OTForLife.