Benefits of Occupational Therapy in Children

by Barbara Foster

As children grow and age, they pass through many important developmental stages. Huge developmental strides are made in the first three years of life alone. Sometimes, however, children are delayed in their physical, cognitive, or social development. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but in many cases, occupational therapy can help.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on helping individuals achieve independence in their daily lives at home, in public, at school, and at work. Many people wrongly assume that occupational therapy is meant to help people develop skills to aid them in their profession, or "occupation." This leads some to believe that occupational therapy is only for adults. In fact, occupational therapists use the word "occupation" to refer to the activities their patients engage in on a daily basis. Therefore, children can be said to have a multitude of different occupations, like eating, playing, and learning. Occupational therapy has been found to help children who experience delays in their physical, mental, or social development. While there is some overlap between the two disciplines, occupational therapy differs from physical therapy in that it is more focused on helping patients improve their ability to perform daily tasks, while a physical therapist is typically more concerned with treating patients' injuries.

What Do Occupational Therapists Do?

Occupational therapists help children develop the skills they need to learn and carry out everyday tasks. They work directly with children to evaluate their strengths and to help them achieve important developmental milestones. These could include the use of fine motor skills and self-care skills like feeding and dressing oneself. Therapists can also help to address the social and behavioral issues that can sometimes accompany physical disabilities and developmental disorders. To accomplish these goals, they employ a wide variety of tactics ranging from testing to play activities.

Could Your Child Benefit From Occupational Therapy?

Children who can reap benefits from occupational therapy include children with sensory processing disorders, learning disabilities, birth defects, chronic illnesses, developmental delays, and traumatic injuries. Any child who is having difficulty carrying out important daily activities, such as eating with silverware, using writing utensils, learning at school, or socializing with peers, could potentially benefit from occupational therapy. Studies have indicated that occupational therapy can help children living with conditions like autism respond to their environments more effectively. Occupational therapy can also help children with physical anomalies and sensory processing disorders. Children with cerebral palsy may benefit from a combination of physical therapy and occupational therapy.

How Can Occupational Therapy Help With Common Childhood Issues?

Children with autism often benefit from working with occupational therapists. By observing them closely, occupational therapists can evaluate how autistic children interact with their environments. They can assess children's attention spans, play and social abilities, motor skills, and responses to stimuli. In time, occupational therapy can help autistic children improve their motor and social skills. This kind of therapy can also help children with cerebral palsy. Occupational therapists often work with these children to improve their fine motor skills and find easier methods of accomplishing important daily tasks. The goal is to help these children become more independent and less reliant on others for help. This might include the use of adaptive technology and specialized equipment. Occupational therapists may also help parents make adaptive changes to their home environment to meet the needs of their children.

What Activities Do Children Do With Occupational Therapists?

Occupational therapists employ a wide variety of techniques to help their patients. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Therapists work with individual children and their parents to develop personalized approaches that address specific developmental goals. For children with autism, sessions with occupational therapists might include play activities to help foster communication skills and social awareness. Occupational therapists might work with children who have cerebral palsy to practice performing challenging daily tasks, with special emphasis on improving fine motor skills. They might recommend new ways of doing things or have children take part in movement exercises.