Occupational therapy can be very beneficial for little ones who need it, but many parents don’t know what it is or whether it might be a good fit for their child.
What is Occupational Therapy?
A pediatric occupational therapist (OT) works with children on a variety of skills to help them with the “occupations” of their lives. These include tasks that a child needs to perform in order to function, learn, and interact.
How Occupational Therapy Helps Children
Occupational therapy is often used to help children with specific conditions, like autism, visual or hearing impairments, or sensory processing disorder (SPD). It can also be beneficial for babies, toddlers, and children who don’t have a diagnosed condition but do have some challenges that interfere with daily routines.
Here are some examples of the many ways occupational therapy helps children who need it:
Develops Social Skills
A little one’s “social style” depends on their temperament and personality, but there are several social milestones babies and toddlers need to reach to stay on track. If your child shows some social delays or has been diagnosed with a condition that interferes with their ability to socialize, an OT can work with them to build developmentally-appropriate social skills. Some areas an OT might focus on include developing personal space boundaries, taking turns and sharing, and building verbal and nonverbal communication skills.
Builds motor skills
Occupational therapy can help little ones who aren’t meeting motor skills milestones, including fine motor, gross motor, oral motor, and hand-eye coordination skills. It also addresses issues with balance, coordination, spatial awareness, motor planning, and other movement skills.
Helps overcome sensitivities
Sensory challenges can affect any of a child’s external senses (taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell), but some toddlers can be especially sensitive to certain textures and flavors. An OT can work with them to slowly introduce foods and materials that they might be avoiding.
Toddlers shift their attention a lot, and are notoriously wiggly, but for those who exhibit more extreme attention challenges (like excessive talking, noise-making or struggling to sit still during an activity), early intervention with an OT can make a significant difference in a child’s ability to focus when they reach preschool and school age. An OT will likely use structured play to improve your toddler’s attention through timed activities, puzzles, and other tasks that require concentration.
Children with negative or harmful behaviors, such as biting, hitting, or frequent tantrums/meltdowns, can work with an OT to learn more positive responses. This is a common focus for children on the autism spectrum, but can also help children with attention, sensory processing, and communication challenges, as well as anxiety or other conditions that affect behavior.
Assists with using specialized equipment
For children who use assistive equipment, like a wheelchair, leg braces, or communication devices, occupational therapy can teach them to get the most out of their devices. In addition, an OT can evaluate children to determine if they might benefit from an assistive device in the first place.
Many of the activities in our BabySparks app were not only developed by OTs, they can also be used as part of an OT home program. If you enlist the help of an OT for your child, talk to them about incorporating BabySparks to help support therapy goals.