More and more often we are faced with the fact that children do not know how to button or hold a pen correctly when writing. Such a method as occupational therapy comes to the rescue.
Occupational therapy can help children become better at basic tasks that can increase their self-esteem. Occupational therapy helps people who struggle to perform everyday tasks because of poor motor skills. For children, this includes tasks that are part of learning and function well in school.
Occupational therapy works on the skills children need to perform the tasks they struggle with, from buttoning their coats to writing and typing. Here’s what you need to know about occupational therapy.
What is occupational therapy
Occupational therapy is a treatment that helps improve fine and gross motor skills and motor planning. It can also help children who struggle with self-regulation and sensory processing. The therapy is tailored to the child’s specific needs.
Before beginning, the occupational therapist looks at the child’s strengths and challenges, as well as the tasks the child is having trouble with. He or she will then develop a program of activities that the child will work on.
Here are examples of tasks and skills that occupational therapists can focus on:
- Self-care procedures, such as dressing (fine motor skills and motor planning)
- Writing and copying notes (fine motor skills, hand and eye coordination)
- Holding and manipulating a pencil using scissors (fine motor skills, motor planning)
- Throwing and catching (gross motor skills such as balance and coordination)
- Backpacking (motor planning, organizational skills)
- Responding to sensory input (self-regulation skills)
Occupational therapy consists of exercises and drills to develop certain weak skills. For example, if a child has very messy handwriting, therapy may include multisensory techniques to help with handwriting. If a child struggles with concentration, the therapist may ask that child to do full-body exercises before sitting down to do homework. The earlier a child begins occupational therapy, the more effective it becomes.
Being able to do basic tasks can also help build self-esteem and confidence in children who may fall when they struggle, especially in front of peers. Children who struggle with motor skills tend to be uncoordinated and often clumsy. Being seen as “different” can put them at risk of bullying and make them feel like victims. Talk to your child about strengths that may arise from challenges. You can also download thinking worksheets to help your child be optimistic about improvements.
How occupational therapy can help with specific problems
Children with certain problems often need occupational therapy. One condition that affects motor skills is developmental coordination disorder (sometimes called dyspraxia). There are a number of activities that therapists can use to improve skills. One exercise for fine motor skills may be for children to pick up objects with tweezers. To help with hand dominance, children can practice cutting out objects with scissors. To help develop gross motor skills, children can do jumping jacks, catching balls of different sizes, or running through obstacle courses.
Occupational therapy can also help children who have sensory processing problems. When children struggle to process sensory information, they may overreact or underreact to what they hear, see, taste, touch, or smell. This can cause children to go into slumps or become hyperactive. In this case, therapists can develop a sensory diet.
This plan is a series of physical activities and accommodations designed to give children the sensory input they need. Occupational therapy can also use hard work to help children who seek or avoid certain types of sensory input. Occupational therapy can also help children with other problems such as dyslexia, visual processing problems, executive functioning problems, and dysgraphia.