Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Pediatric Patients

Did you know that nearly a third of the patients who receive occupational therapy are pediatric patients? There are many misconceptions about occupational therapy. Many individuals assume it is similar to physical therapy as both professions involve improving movement and quality of life. However, that's quite far from the truth. 

Occupational therapy provides a variety of benefits for pediatric patients focusing on the development of functional skill sets in the areas of: 

  • Self-care
  • Sensory regulation
  • Behavior
  • Feeding
  • Visual perceptual skill sets
  • Social pragmatics 

The misconception of the profession often leads most to believe we primarily focus on strength and endurance to perform better within our environment. Even though this is true, occupational therapy involves looking at the child from a holistic nature to better participate in daily tasks to improve independence and safety. To further clarify, let us discuss further the benefits of occupational therapy at Firelands Children’s S.P.O.T.

Improves Motor Skills and Quality of Life

One of the most significant advantages occupational therapy can provide pediatric patients is the improvement of the child’s performance, independence, and participation among a variety of everyday skill sets. Occupational therapists complete assessments and task analyses to identify challenges and areas of opportunity to improve task performance. This is often completed during play tasks and also instrumental daily tasks such as cooking, playing with toys, or feeding. Occupational therapists also assist with behavior, coping, and sensory regulation. They consider how the child’s mind and body react to the environment from a neurodevelopmental and sensory perspective. Based on these considerations, the therapist can provide strategies to prevent or diminish behaviors. The biggest role occupational therapists play is how to modify or adapt a component of an activity to make it more functional. They are trained to find the right level of challenge for the child to be successful. Occupational therapists focus on the following areas during pediatric treatment:

  • Fine Motor 
  • Visual Perceptual Skill Sets
  • Self Care (cooking, cleaning, bathing, brushing teeth)
  • Feeding
  • Behavior
  • Neurodevelopmental treatment strategies
  • Sensory Integration (Sensory Regulation and Modulation)
  • Splinting

Occupational therapists are more accredited for improving fine motor skills rather than developmental gross motor skills. They work on improving the coordination, strength, and dynamic motor movements of the upper body to help complete a task with proper precision. They are trained to interpret and modify skill acquisition components among a variety of fine motor tasks such as handwriting, cutting, cutting food, and object manipulation. In contrast, Occupational therapists look at gross motor movement from a sensory integration aspect. They assess how our sensory systems interact within the environment and potentially alter the child’s ability to participate in play schemes or functional tasks with efficiency. For example, a child who does not like to climb the ladder, but has good reciprocal movement on the stairs, may have issues with gravitational insecurity vs a gross motor impairment. Occupational therapists would intervene with vestibular or balance activities using swings, obstacle courses, or uneven surfaces to reduce the child’s aversion to heights.

Occupational therapy can help your child improve their fine and gross motor skills, allowing them to improve their ability to complete tasks alone. As a result, your child can complete daily tasks like feeding, grooming, handwriting, or playing on the playground with ease. 

Encourages Social Interaction and Self Esteem

Apart from obtaining full functionality of their fine motor, self-care, and play skills, your child should also know how to interact with their peers and adults. Occupational therapists can break down play milestones of development. This is a good starting point to assess if imitation, parallel, exploration, or dramatic play is occurring.  Assessing play provides a lot of information in regards to a child’s ability to socially interact. Occupational therapists also encourage the use of group therapy to help develop social pragmatics as well. The power of the peer model is beneficial, allowing the child to interact with others on their level while a therapist is present to redirect and encourage proper social interactions. Occupational therapists also analyze the environment. If an environment from a sensory integration aspect is overstimulating, it may cause aversions or seeking behaviors that can affect the child’s ability to properly self-cope, interact with peers, listen to directions, or interpret emotions. Once the balance is found among the components of play, executive functioning, sensory regulation, and integration of coping strategies, a child’s self-esteem, self-advocacy, and self-efficacy start to improve. 

It Helps Motivate Children with Autism

Occupational therapy is a critical and beneficial therapy that provides an array of tools to help children with autism. Among this population, the most prominent area Occupational Therapists focus on is providing education on sensory integration. Sensory Integration is a model of practice that describes how our brain organizes our 8 sensory systems (visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, vestibular, interoception, proprioception) and allows us to interpret and respond to stimuli within our environment. Children with autism have a sensitive sensory integration system often causing difficulties with regulation and modulation. Often, a child with autism may display aversions to tactile stimuli. They may not like the touch or sight of certain objects. They perceive these objects with unappealing textures as noxious stimuli and may display gagging, high arching, facial squinting, or digit splay as signs of sensory aversions and discomfort. This often makes feeding and food exploration difficult with this population. Occupational therapists use their training in sensory integration to allow desensitization to occur to increase food tolerance and exploration. In contrast, a child with autism may also depict the characteristics of a sensory seeker. A sensory seeker may appear as a child who is constantly moving, pushing, crashing, or throwing items. Children who are seekers typically are craving deep pressure to feel grounded and regulated. Occupational therapists work together with the child and families to find the right “sensory recipe” through sensory exploration.  Once the child is regulated, overall functional skill acquisition, problem-solving, attention, and sequencing to complete functional tasks for school, transitions, or self-care can improve. 

Occupational therapists do not work alone. They work as a team with pediatric speech and physical therapists. Often, children with autism benefit from a co-treatment involving more than one discipline treating at the same time. Occupational therapists can provide sensory regulation and modulation tactics during treatment to help with motor planning or speech production. They may provide tactics such as sensory brushing, crashing from obstacle courses, tactile exploration, or vestibular input from hammocks or swings. Once the therapist finds the right sensory input, the child can become regulated allowing a child’s potential receptive and expressive langue to unfurl. In contrast, a speech therapist can work with the occupational therapist to interpret and assist how and what a child may be communicating in a moment of need or stress. The speech therapist will assist the occupational therapist and the child in regards to how to redirect understanding of materials or exploration of tasks. Thus, the dynamics of providing two disciplines within a treatment can be inclusive and rewarding for the child’s development and overall success. 

Pediatric therapy at Firelands Regional Medical Center’s Children’s S.P.O.T. serves children with special needs in a playful, child-centered, encouraging environment. It is designed to be a fun learning experience to help children improve function and confidence in their skills. Our goal is to look at children as a whole person and focus on their strengths to build their ability to become functional and independent. We work directly with parents to develop therapeutic goals and activities to promote the child’s path to success. Our Children’s S.P.O.T team of specialized therapists has supported our community for over 40 years with unmatched experience, teamwork, and the highest-quality care. Pediatric therapies include: 

·        Speech therapy

·        Physical therapy

·        Occupational therapy

Learn more about the pediatric therapy services provided by the Firelands Children’s S.P.O.T. today.