If your child has been referred to a Cleveland occupational therapist, you may be wondering why. After all, it’s not as if kids have “occupations” – right?
In fact, they do!
A child’s occupation is to learn, grow, and play. When a child struggles to master the skills needed to accomplish these tasks, a Cleveland occupational therapist can help.
Occupational therapists in general help people of all ages and in a variety of roles and settings. It’s a broad discipline, but if you had to boil it down to a single definition, it is an evidence-based approach that assists people in accomplishing the things they want or need to do in order to be as functional and independent as possible.
When it comes to children, occupational therapists (or OTs, as we call them) are most commonly called to help those with developmental delays, disabilities, and serious injuries in learning (or relearning, in the case of an injury) to master tasks like self care, social communication, regulating emotions/managing transitions, fine & gross motor skills, and functioning/thriving in academics and extracurriculars.
Our approach is play-based – both because we love kids and want them to love learning, but also because there’s a mountain of peer-reviewed research that shows it’s the most effective way for kids to engage and learn.
Some of the primary skills we help children to master:
- Fine and gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are those that involve the larger body muscle groups. These are the muscles used for crawling, walking, jumping, running, catching or kicking a ball, etc. Fine motor skills are those that require the strength and coordination of smaller muscle groups of the hands and fingers. These are needed for important tasks like eating, brushing your teeth/combing hair, tying shoes, drawing, writing, etc. Fine and gross motor skills are used all day every day, and a Cleveland occupational therapist can help a child learn to conquer these tasks for maximum independence.
- Self-care. For kids with disabilities or delays, this refers to the ability to take care of oneself in day-to-day routines. From grooming to feeding, to dressing to toileting – all of these things take practice. This is true for neurotypical kids as well as those who are atypical; it’s just that the latter needs a bit more practice, and perhaps a different approach to the teaching of it.
- Sensory processing. If your child has a difficult time tolerating a variety of foods (to the point where they’re only eating four things), expresses extreme irritation at wearing different fabrics, can’t tolerate the bristles on a toothbrush long enough to clean their teeth, struggles with sensitivity to light, sound, or crowds – all of these are indicators of sensory processing disorder. (These are sensory avoidance behaviors, but it can go the opposite way as well, with kids going out of their way to seek extra sensory input.) Of course everyone has their preferences and dislikes. But sensory processing disorder can make it difficult for kids to navigate through everyday tasks safely and successfully. A Cleveland occupational therapist can help them overcome the issues causing impediments or risks through fun games and exercises.
- Executive functioning. This is the set of skills that allow a person to do things like pay attention, get organized, initiate a plan, follow a sequence of events, remember important details. A lot of neurotypical kids struggle with these as well, but those with conditions like autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or Down syndrome may have an especially tough time. We break it all down into smaller steps and give them plenty of patience and practice.
- Play and social skills. Interacting with others (adults and peers) in a variety of settings is critical not only for kids to be able to thrive at school and throughout the community, but also for a child’s mental and emotional health, as well as their physical safety. Making friends, engaging in play, understanding what’s expected of them in a classroom versus at the kitchen table, knowing when someone is being deceptive/tricky/unkind – these are things that kids learn over time. Those with developmental delays and disabilities may need additional help and time to learn these things.
- Overall stability and strength. Being able to sit upright, maintain balance, walk steadily, firmly grip a pencil – these are all foundational skills necessary to completing important everyday tasks. An OT works with your child to help strengthen key muscle groups and improve their coordination so that they can more easily maneuver throughout their day.
- Visual perceptual and visual motor skills. These are the skills needed to interpret visual input and give it meaning. This is something neurotypical kids learn to do fairly quickly, but some kids with delays and disabilities may struggle with it – and it can impact their ability to play, read, write, etc.
If you have questions about how an OT might help your child, we’re happy to provide insight and help you figure out where to start.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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.
What Is Executive Function? And How Does It Relate to Child Development?, Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child
More Blog Entries:
Tactile Defensiveness Treatment from Our Akron Occupational Therapists, Dec. 29, 2022, Ohio Occupational Therapy Blog