Value of Occupational Therapy for Kids Highlighted During the Pandemic
Occupational therapy helps children when they have difficulties in day-to-day activities in their home, school and community.
It’s a very broad discipline, and many parents who come to Therapy & Wellness Connection have never really heard of it or understand why it’s so helpful for so many kids.
Occupational therapy has always been integral to our clinic, but we’re highlighting it now because the impact of the pandemic has left many kids falling even more behind when it comes to developmental milestones. Maybe they are on track with their speech and language, but they struggle with holding a crayon or pencil correctly. They’re getting ready for preschool, but have a tough time with things like using scissors or tracing lines. They have a very difficult time dressing themselves. Maybe they have no desire to even start potty training – even though it’s well past time.
They may have struggled with these things before schools and daycare centers closed, but now they’ve been home for months, with parents who are overwhelmed and no children their age to help motivate them, make it fun. The good news is these are all things with which occupational therapy can help-and it’s not just for kids with disabilities.
1 in 4 Kids in Kindergarten Are Delayed
Kids all develop at their own pace. It’s understandable that parents don’t want to overreact or use unnecessary labels. But it’s important to understand that if a child is developmentally delayed, early intervention is critical to helping them avoid falling further behind. Some children might only need a few months of therapy. Others may need it on a more intensive schedule for several years. Our team will be frank with you if we don’t think it’s needed at all.
One study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics last year revealed that 1 in 4 children enters kindergarten with a delay in:
- Gross motor skills
- Fine motor skills
The pandemic isolation and social distancing may be necessary to slow spread of the virus, but it’s also meant that kids have lost now just learning, but coordination and fine motor skills. As a result, some may now need occupational therapy, which can help children with the development of gross motor skills, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and daily living activities such as eating, dressing, potty training and handwriting.
We recognize it can be difficult determining whether your child is actually experiencing a delay. Under normal circumstances, the measuring stick most parents use is whether their kids were on pace with others their age. That is tougher now in the age of social distancing. That’s why seeking a consultation from a dedicated team of Cleveland pediatric therapists is so helpful. Collectively, we have decades of experience working with children and assessing their skills and the need for intervention services.
Some may think, “Well if a quarter of all kids are delayed, mine will catch up eventually.” And that may be true. The problem is you don’t know that for sure, and if there is a bigger underlying issue, waiting to seek help could result in a snowballing effect. The child is only ever going to continue to get further behind.
This is especially true if the child was relying on any school-based OT services prior to the pandemic. Kids who may have been struggling with handwriting would have only further declined in their skills without regular help from school OTs, making it tough to keep up with writing assignments, spelling tests and other academic activities.
Virtual Occupational Therapy Can Help
If you’re not ready to return to in-person school or therapy, Therapy & Wellness Connection offers virtual therapy options. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about getting an OT evaluation. Most insurance plans cover some form of OT, though the setting and diagnosis may vary. Our team is here to help you navigate that. We also offer competitive self-pay rates.
In the meantime, there are many things parents can do at home to boost their kids’ daily living and fine motor skills using play-based activities. We can offer specifics that are appropriate and helpful for your child, but in general:
- Play outside. Encourage them to play on the monkey bars, the jungle gym, swings – activities that require them to use/strengthen their core muscles, grip and shoulder girdle.
- Create an obstacle course. This could be outside or in your living room. The key is having obstacles for them that require navigating with coordination, balance and core strength. Make the surfaces uneven. Have the lines go in a zigzag. Have jumping activities.
- Plan crafts with cutting. Take a pair of kids’ scissors outside. Let them cut grass clippings or leaves. Bring them home and have them make a craft involving cutout shapes on construction paper. (Check out this blog for cute fall-themed cutting crafts.)
- Dig into gardening. This is a great activity you can do together with your child. Using a shovel can help strengthen shoulder and trunk muscles. Planting seeds helps with that pincer grasp.
- Bake something. Baking can incorporate so many OT skill targets, from fine motor skills to numbering steps to following directions. There’s pouring, sifting, spooning and squeezing – all of which requires a degree of hand-eye coordination, hand strength and self-regulation.
If you have questions or need more ideas, our Cleveland occupational therapists are here to help!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
How to Help a Child With Delays in Motor Skills and When to Get Support, Aug. 21, 2020, By Hallie Levine, The New York Times
More Blog Entries:
Why is Handwriting So Hard? A Cleveland Occupational Therapist Explains. Aug. 4, 2020, Cleveland Occupational Therapy Blog