Those first introduced to the world of early intervention therapy are often confused as to why children would need occupational therapy. After all, kids don’t have “occupations,” right?
Actually, they do!
As our Brecksville occupational therapy practitioners can explain, children’s “occupations” involve the business of growing and developing. That means picking up fine and gross motor skills, learning to communicate and socialize, grasping self-care, feeding, and emotional regulation, and overall navigating the world around them. Play is the means through which kids master their neurological and biological development. Engaging in activities that are both fun and creative helps kids to ultimately become independent adults.
That is why play-based occupational therapy is so effective. As noted by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), it is often through play that kids learn to make sense of and engage with the world around them. Occupational therapists help children who are struggling in certain areas – most frequently with neurological, muscular, and social/communication skills due to a developmental delay, disability or injury/illness. We do this through sensory-rich play that offers opportunities for them to develop/master those skills while also having fun. We never want sessions to feel like work, even if that’s ultimately what they are.
How Brecksville Occupational Therapy Practitioners Use Play-Based Therapy
As occupational therapists, we use play not only to address the child’s goals, but also to help motivate them to challenge themselves.
Some of the ways we work with children during play-based occupational therapy include:
- Helping to modify toys or the environment so that the child can get just the right of sensory input without being overwhelmed.
- Recommending to parents activities for play and toys that can offer just the right amount of challenge for a child so that they are learning/working on a skill set, but also still having fun. We can also incorporate play into a variety of exercises that are geared toward helping build on the child’s abilities and strengths.
- Crafting our sessions around play opportunities that encourage social skills like turn-taking and neurological skills like problem-solving. We’ll take in the unique priorities and routines of your family when formulating strategies you can use to incorporate this kind of play in your everyday life.
Some examples of toys and activities that we frequently use to work on certain skills:
- Manipulative play with toys like board games, play dough and LEGOs. What we’re looking for here is boosting the child’s dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
- Sensory-rich play with things like finger paints, magnets, kinetic sand, water toys, balls and beads. Lots of kids we work with struggle with sensory dysregulation. Playing with toys that incorporate sight, sound, tough, smell, and movement helps them work on sensory integration and regulation.
- Imaginative play with things like dolls, puppets, phones, stuffed animals, etc. Pretend play is an excellent way for kids to practice key social skills.
It’s important that whatever toy or activity we use is appropriate to both the child’s age and maturity level. Toys and activities need not be expensive to be effective. Although our occupational therapists can conduct sessions in the home, at school, or in other settings, one benefit of in-clinic sessions is that we have a wealth of tools and toys within arm’s reach.
Our occupational therapy team works with kids with a broad range of disabilities, delays and challenges. If you’re interested in our play-based occupational therapy services in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, our team would be happy to connect with you!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA/behavior therapy to children 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.
Learning Through Play, American Occupational Therapy Association
More Blog Entries:
Fun Fall Activities From Our Akron Occupational Therapists, Oct. 8, 2021, Brecksville Occupational Therapy Blog
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
Frustration tolerance is the ability to successfully manage feelings of frustration. It’s a tough skill to master, and it’s something with which a lot of kids struggle. As our Cleveland occupational therapists can explain, having low frustration tolerance can make completing even the most basic tasks an uphill battle.
Frustration is an emotional response occurring when something goes wrong or what we desire doesn’t come to fruition. Teaching kids to cope with frustration is essential to helping them become adults who are patient, decisive and capable.
Kids with low frustration may:
- Get easily upset.
- Have difficulty accepting or moving on from defeat/not winning at a game.
- Have trouble solving things easily or right away.
- Give up easily.
- Have trouble concentrating (unable to listen to a full story/focus on their school work).
- Struggle with reduced social skills, uninterested in playing with other kids (which becomes cyclical in other kids’ response to them).
Of course, ups and downs are a normal part of childhood – and of life! Children may experience stress and discomfort when faced with new situations or environments (and the beginning of a new school year is a good time to talk about this!). But parents, caregivers, and occupational therapists can respond with care and understanding, while still teaching them how to appropriately respond to frustrating situations.
Lots of people think the terms meltdown and tantrum are interchangeable. It’s true they look very much the same when a child is in the midst of one, but the reasons behind them – and how you respond to each – are actually quite different. As an Akron OT (occupational therapist) can explain, knowing the difference between the two can help you react in a way that’s going to best support your child.
What is a Tantrum?
Tantrums are outbursts that occur when a child is trying to get something they want or need. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, you know temper tantrums are pretty par for the course. However, they tend to taper off as children gain the language necessary to express themselves and the tools needed to self-regulate their emotional responses.
Some children find it’s tough to keep their emotions in check even once they do have the language skills to cope. They get frustrated and angry quickly. They might throw a tantrum if a sibling gets more cereal than they do or if they’re denied a candy bar at the grocery store.
Of course, screaming, yelling and throwing ones’ self on the floor aren’t socially expected or appropriate ways to get what we want, but as an Akron OT or RBT can tell you, the behavior is occurring for a reason. It is serving a functional purpose. Ultimately, the behavior is somehow being reinforced. They have learned that engaging in this behavior has a desired outcome – even if it’s not always a positive one. You may notice some kids will stop in the middle of a tantrum to see if their parent or teacher is looking at them. Tantrums stop either when a child gets what he/she wants OR they are taught that throwing a tantrum will not get them what they want.
What is a Meltdown?
Meltdowns are different from tantrums because they stem not necessarily for the purpose of a desired outcome, but because of a reaction to feeling overwhelmed. They are very common with children on the autism spectrum when they are receiving too much – or too little – sensory input. Certain textures, sights, sounds, tastes and personal interaction can lead to a kind of sensory overload.
Commotion at a grocery store or the different smells and textures of a non-preferred meal could trigger a meltdown. A sensory meltdown is a reaction of someone who is trying to process too much at once.
Think about it like this: Every person’s tolerance for sensory input is like a pitcher of water. Most of us can control the flow and fill the liquid a little at a time. Those of us with language and emotional coping skills can communicate when the pitcher is getting too full or shut the water off ourselves. A child without these skills – particularly one who is very sensitive to sensory stimuli – may not be able to control the flow before the pitcher gets too full and overflows. This is when one’s “fight or flight” response turns on – and is displayed through running away, yelling, crying or completely shutting down.
How an Akron OT Can Help With Meltdowns
An Akron OT and/or ABA therapist can work with your child to determine the root cause of your child’s outbursts. Is there a function? What is making them feel overwhelmed? We will look carefully at the antecedent (what happens just before the tantrum/meltdown), the behavior (the child’s action) and the consequence (what happens immediately after).
Sometimes, parents reinforce unexpected behaviors without realizing it. For example, if the function of a tantrum is that it allows the child to avoid a non-preferred task, parents may be unintentionally reinforcing that behavior by removing the child from the situation. If a meltdown is set off by sensory overload, we can work on self-regulation, visual schedules and other strategies to give child the tools to better cope.
Sensory meltdowns can sometimes last for hours.
Ultimately, the best thing long-term is to help children develop self-regulation skills and to practice them yourself. Deep breathing, counting to a certain number and other self-soothing methods can help you respond with both wisdom and patient and reduce the incidence of tantrums and meltdowns.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
The 3 Main Differences Between a Sensory Meltdown and a Temper Tantrum, Feb. 12, 2020, By Sa’iyda Shabazz, FamilyEducation.com
More Blog Entries:
What to Look for in a Cleveland Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Dec. 12, 2020, Akron OT Blog
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.
Learning how to write is one of the most vital skills a child learns early on in their education. As a Cleveland occupational therapist can explain, the skills needed to be successful in this task actually start much sooner than kindergarten – or even pre-school.
Some of the complex skills needed for handwriting include:
- Knowing the letters of the alphabet
- Visual motor skills
- Letter formation
- Sequence following
- Visual perception skills
- Maintaining control of the paper (to stay in the lines)
- Bilateral coordination
- Recognition of left-to-right progression
- Recognition of top-to-bottom progression
- Movement tracking of the hand, pencil and paper
- Crossing midline skills
- Fine motor skills (in-hand manipulation, pencil grasp, visual hand-eye coordination)
- Gross motor skills (muscle memory, posture, body control)
Not all teachers have formal training in how to teach handwriting skills. When a student struggles with handwriting, a Cleveland occupational therapist can help.
Children of all abilities all over the globe aren’t getting enough exercise. The problem is even greater for children with special needs, who by some research estimates get just 17 minutes of physical activity in school – a day. As Akron pediatric occupational therapy professionals, this is problematic not only from a position of physical health but also of cognitive development and academic success.
Brain Benefits of Physical Activity
It’s our goal during sessions to get kids moving as much as we can, but parents who want to see their children thrive cannot overlook this component. One study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports & Exercise found that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is directly associated with better reading fluency and arithmetic skills.
As reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior, all of which are important components of improved academic performance. These include enhanced concentration and attention as well as improved classroom behavior.”
If your child isn’t sleeping well, it impacts not only their daytime functioning, but that of the family at-large. Children with special needs are at increased risk for sleep disorders and sleep disturbances, which can have a major impact on their mood, behavior, learning, physiology and just generally how well they feel. This can have a profound impact on how well a child functions each day. Occupational therapy can help.
Many people don’t consider that sleep is one of the primary occupations of children until they turn 5. Even after that, it’s critical to healthy growth and development.
According to the Sleep Help Institute, kids under 2 should be receiving anywhere from 14-16 hours of total sleep (including naps) every day. Kids 2-3 should be getting 10-11 hours at night (plus 1-2 hours of nap time). Kids 3-5 should be getting 10-13 hours of sleep with an extra hour of nap time, and kids 5-12 should be getting 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night.
Kids With Special Needs Especially Prone to Sleep Trouble
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that insufficient sleep is a serious public health problem, as it contributes to motor vehicle crashes, work-related accidents and chronic disease. “Sleep inefficiency” is understood to be a lack of restorative sleep, which includes an adequate amount of restorative sleep (meaning all five stages of it).
Childhood sleep problems are more common than you might think. They affect about 25 percent of all preschool children and 43 percent of school-age kids. Children with developmental delays and disorders are even more likely to be referred for sleep studies. One study found that 49 to 89 percent of children on the autism spectrum had trouble sleeping. Same goes for 25 to 50 percent of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and 34 to 86 percent of children with intellectual disabilities.
If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, regardless of whether it’s co-occurring with other conditions, occupational therapy has been proven to help in a number of ways. Our Akron ADHD occupational therapy helps children develop the skills necessary to complete everyday tasks. That means:
- Improving organizational skills
- Learning to control their hyperactivity;
- Practicing basic self hygiene and healthy eating;
- Promoting positive behaviors;
- Coping with anxiety;
- Advancing physical coordination/gross motor skills.
We want children to grow to be functionally independent, healthy, happy contributors in their families and greater communities. Akron ADHD occupational therapy over time can help your child develop the life skills to help make this possible.