If we’re doing it right, those peering into a pediatric occupational therapy session will think it just looks like, well, playing! But those glimpses can leave a lot of people confused about what exactly occupational therapy is and why it’s needed for kids. Our Brecksville pediatric therapy team is happy to explain.
As noted by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupational therapy is a branch of health care that helps people of all ages with physical, sensory, social, or cognitive problems. It’s a broad discipline, but the primary goal is helping people to achieve independence in all areas of life. We look at what barriers are standing in the way of that.
Occupational therapists may work with adults who have suffered from strokes or serious injuries to regain their independence. With children, we are working to help them achieve independence they likely did not have in the first place. We do this by assisting them when they’re struggling with developmental delays, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social skills, oral motor skills, visual processing, or sensory disorders. Mostly, we work with children who have some marked developmental delays or diagnosed disabilities, but we do sometimes work with kids on one-off (but important) skills – like handwriting – with which they may be struggling.
How Occupational Therapy Can Help Your Child
In examining whether a child needs our Brecksville occupational therapy services, we look at what day-to-day difficulties they are having at home, at school, and in their community. Often, they’re grappling with challenges that don’t affect most typically-developing children (or don’t affect them the same way).
A great occupational therapist will support not only the child but the child’s family too.
Some of the areas in which we can help:
- Developmental delays. This is when a child is behind other kids their same age in certain areas of development. It’s typically flagged when a child fails to meet certain developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling, walking, learning at an age-appropriate level or failing to develop age-appropriate social and play skills.
- Fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are essential to so many basic tasks of daily living. These are the sorts of fine movements that are needed to do things like hold a pencil, use scissors, button a shirt, feed yourself, etc. It often involves the fine motor of the fingers, but it can also be issues with the toes, wrists, tongue and lips. If your child has trouble feeding themselves, picking up/holding small objects or avoids things like puzzles and coloring, they might have fine motor skill issues. We can help!
Gross motor skills. These include the wider movements of body parts like arms, legs, and core. These are the movements that help us control our body. If a child is having difficulty with movement, balance, or strength, an occupational therapist can help them strengthen these skills to improve independence.
Visual processing. This is the skill that allows us to make use of what we’re seeing. It’s how our brain interprets the information it’s receiving visually. A child with visual processing issues is going to have trouble with things like recognizing letters, shapes, and numbers, finding objects among other objects, visually tracking objects, copying items from the board onto their paper, or ascertaining right from left. An occupational therapist can help.
Oral motor/oral sensory. This is when the child struggles to control the muscle movements of the face and mouth. You’ll notice this is an issue if your child has excessive drool, chews in the front of their mouth rather than in the back, struggles with drinking from a cup or straw when their peers have no trouble, or is an excessively picky eater. Our occupational therapy team has many tools and strategies we can use to help with these problems.
Sensory processing. This is how we make sense of information gleaned from our five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, sound, and hearing). Kids can be either overly-sensitive or under-stimulated by sensory input. Kids with sensory processing issues (particularly common among those on the autism spectrum) may be constantly moving/jumping/bumping/crashing, under-reactive to certain issues, emotionally reactive or have trouble adjusting to change. They may also have a really tough time calming themselves down with they’re upset.
Social interactions. Humans are social creatures. Our ability to understand social cues and form positive relationships with those around us is central to our ability to function in daily life. If a child has difficulty engaging socially, adapting to new environments, or communicating (delayed language skills or hyper-focused on a single subject), it can impede their ability to function. We have lots of strategies we can teach to help them in these areas.
Learning difficulties. Sometimes referred to as learning disabilities, these are often related to developmental delays and certain conditions. A child with a learning difficulty may be unable to concentrate or focus, be easily distracted, struggle to follow instructions and complete work, have poor impulse control, or need lots of extra help learning new material.
Bear in mind that all kids are going to develop at their own pace. But if you have concerns about your child falling behind or struggling in certain areas, the earlier we can intervene with occupational therapy, the better the chances they’ll be able to “catch up” to their peers and/or have the greatest shot at independence.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA therapy to children with special needs in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.
More Blog Entries:
Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: What’s the Difference? July 3, 2021, Brecksville Occupational Therapy Blog
Even though we live in a world where it seems everything these days is typed, mastering legible handwriting is still an important life skill – starting first and foremost with one’s name. If your child has reached the age of 6 and is still unable to write his name, it may be time to consult with an Akron occupational therapist.
It’s true that as a society, we tend to push kids to start writing very early – perhaps even before they’re developmentally ready for the task. Some children are able to do so by age 4, but many typically-developing children won’t put in an honest effort until they’re 5 or so. However, if they’re nearing age 6 and still haven’t made progress on this front, they may need some additional help to get going.
Social skills don’t come easily to many kids with disabilities and delays. But music is a language we can all speak! Music literally moves us and brings people together. It’s uniquely its own kind of therapy, and we love using it in occupational therapy when we’re working on social skills.
At Therapy & Wellness Connection, we offer music therapy because it is a research-based practice in which we use music to actively support people working toward improvement in their health, function and well-being. And it’s so versatile! Music is powerful and a very effective way to help children with special needs meet their occupational therapy goals, including improvement of:
- Motor skills
- Speech & language skills
- Cognition/neural processing skills
- Self-regulation/reducing anxiety
It’s common knowledge in the music community that regular music lessons can help improve academic performance, increase IQ scores and reduce the risk of depression. Still, many parents aren’t aware that music – especially when used in an occupational therapy setting – can help encourage so many important life skills.
Researchers Tout Benefits of Music for Kids With ASD
One recent study specifically had the potential to improve the development of social skills among children with autism spectrum disorder. Further, researchers wanted to know if the effects were long-lasting.
Researchers noted that children with autism often have difficulties with direct social engagement, and that musical activities in the social context can provide them with valuable opportunities for interacting with their peers. They also pointed out prior studies that found even though children on the spectrum have difficulty processing and controlling their emotions, they can identify the rich emotions that are embedded in music as well as any typically-developing child.
Dozens of kids in the study were given pre- and post-music therapy social skills tests. Kids were categorized as having mild to severe autism and social scores that were ranked active to passive. What they found was that social skills was one area of distinct improvement for kids who had undergone musical therapy intervention, and that it was most effective when it was controlled in an occupational therapy setting.
Study authors said the results were encouraging, and called for more research examining the benefits for different age groups, populations, levels of ASD and skill focuses (motor skills, communication skills, etc.).
How We Use Music in Occupational Therapy
Just like a conversation, musical activities usually require body awareness and understanding of nonverbal cues. We can plan lots of fun games and activities around these goals. Specifically for social-pragmatic skills, we can target language objectives, joint attention, eye gaze and cooperative play with games like musical chairs or “musical statutes,” or animal dances.
One we’ve had a lot of fun with is “musical clothes,” where we have a pile of props/costumes in the middle and music is played and each child has to choose one prop/article and quickly don it before the music stops. In summer camps, sometimes we’ll have the kids team up, choose a theme song and create a dance routine with it – with a performance at the end (it’s SO much fun and a great team-building/communication exercise!).
Music can also be used before an occupational therapy session to help prepare the patient emotionally/induce the appropriate amount of arousal (or calming/regulation). It can also be used at the end of a session to help prepare for a transition.
Often in OT, music can be used to help keep kids focused and on-task. Sometimes we’ll listen to a combination of binaural (two-tone frequencies) and classical music, either on headphones or from a speaker. This has been shown to promote alpha brain wave and keep kids calm. For some kids, this music combo or ambient music helps improve dizziness during vestibular training.
If you have questions about occupational therapy or music therapy, our team at Therapy & Wellness Connection can 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, homeschooling, tutoring, vocational services and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Using Music Activities to Teach Social Skills to Children with Autism, April 17, 2018, ASHA
More Blog Entries:
Best Occupational Therapy Board Games for Kids, Oct. 15, 2020, Cleveland Occupational Therapy Blog