Occupational therapists are trained professionals who use a variety of meaningful activities that address specific problems with the aim of allowing people to achieve a maximum degree of independence and enhance their quality of life. Occupational therapy can be beneficial to children who suffer from permanent disabilities, chronic illnesses, the effects of accidents and injuries, as well as those whose development is lagging behind that of their peers. It is used for children as young as six months all the way to kids in their late teens.
Occupational therapy often focuses on developmental milestones and skills that are expected of children in the classroom and on the playground. Many of the techniques employed by occupational therapists involve playful activities, including gymnastic and balancing exercises, games, arts and crafts, as well as specialised equipment, tools and toys. All of which make OT sessions very enjoyable for many children.
A typical example of someone who might benefit from OT is that of a primary school girl who is somewhat slow in developing the fine motor skills - i.e. the precise coordination and movement of fingers and hands - needed for writing. An occupational therapist may play games with her in which she is required to grip small objects or twist little spinning tops in a manner she might normally avoid. Such playful exercises may be designed to result in a more correct pencil grip and lead to improvements in her handwriting.
What to expect
Occupational therapy for your child is likely to involve some or all of the following stages although not necessarily in the same order:
- Referral. Often a doctor or a teacher may suggest that a child might benefit from OT.
- Information gathering and initial assessment. The occupational therapist starts by establishing a holistic picture of the child’s physical, emotional, cognitive and social development by interviewing parents and teachers and evaluating the child’s skills using a number of assessment tools.
- Identification of problems and needs, goal setting and action planning. The occupational therapist determines exactly what OT interventions are required by the child and develops a plan to achieve the necessary improvements.
- The child attends regular OT sessions.
- Ongoing assessment and revision help the occupational therapist to keep track of progress.
- Measurement of outcomes. At the end of a period of occupational therapy an assessment is made of any improvements in the child’s level of development and skills.
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