Occupational Therapy for Sensory Issues
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What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapists are professionals who help people of all ages to better perform everyday tasks, or what OTs call activities of daily living (ADL). When they provide occupational therapy to children, they might help them with eating, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and other activities that are a part of playing, learning, and socializing. An OT may look like she is simply playing with your child when she provides SI (sensory integration) therapy to your child. However, she is carefully choosing activities that will challenge your child to build important developmental skills.
Attention span and arousal level
Children have to be able to remain focused and calm yet alert if they are to learn, socialize, eat, and so on. An OT can help you discover why your child is highly distractible and help her to achieve a state of attention and interest needed if she is to cooperate in therapy and in school.
Sensory processing skills
A child has to effectively use information from all of her senses: the five senses of vision, touch, hearing, taste, and smell as well as the internal vestibular sense (sense of movement) and proprioceptive sense (sense of body awareness). Sensory information comes into the sensory processing centers in a child's brain from receptors in her skin, joints and ligaments, ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. Her brain is supposed to process the sensory signals from inside her body and from her external environment so she can get a clear picture of what she is experiencing. Sensory processing is needed for a child to function at her best.
Fine motor and gross motor skills
Many children have difficulty with fine motor skills such as drawing, using scissors, buttoning, and stringing beads. Their small hand muscles are still maturing, and they may not have developed the strength, coordination, and dexterity needed. OTs work on these fine motor skills. They also work on gross motor skills such as throwing and catching a ball, climbing stairs and playground equipment, jumping and hopping, and so on.
Home Activities and OT
An OT can help children with tasks at home such as learning to eat with utensils, getting dressed and undressed, using the toilet, brushing their hair and teeth, and more. Most children want to perform these tasks independently but children with sensory issues may need help learning how to master them. An OT can break down a task into small steps so that the child who is completely stumped by an everyday task most children could do easily can master it with practice.
From stacking blocks to doing puzzles to understanding geometry, a child must be able to perceive differences and relationships between objects in the environment. An OT can help a child to form a mental map of how the world works and where he fits in it, all of which are essential to feeling physically and emotionally secure.
Handwriting skills, from the basics of letter formation to taking class notes legibly, can be very difficult for some children to develop. OTs use a fun multisensory approach to handwriting, including use of touch (e.g., using a wet finger to write on a chalkboard) and sound (e.g., teaching a special story about how a specific letter is formed).
Assistive technology (AT)
Low-tech devices (such as pencil grips) and high-tech equipment (such as tablets and apps) are increasingly used in schools to assist children with learning differences. An OT can help find the right technological solutions for your child, teach him how to use AT, and help integrate it into the classroom. OTs work with kids with mild to profound physical disabilities. An OT might work with a child to help her organize her school assignments, backpack, and schedule so that she can function better at school. She might also work on sequencing, helping a child with motor planning problems (known as developmental dyspraxia, dyspraxia, or apraxia) to remember how to string together a sequence of movements so that child can be more coordinated.
Not everyone has access to a sensory smart OT. If you can find one to work with you and your child, even if just on a consultation basis, it can make a big difference in your child's ability to process sensory information more typically and function better at home, at school, and away. An OT can work with you to set up a sensory diet and formally assess your child's sensory issues. If you cannot gain access to a sensory smart OT, there is still plenty you can do to set up a sensory diet and implement it at home and at school. A sensory diet for autism and/or sensory issues makes a huge difference in a child's ability to self-regulate focus, mood, and activity level as well as her ability to participate in everyday activities.
BUY Raising a Sensory Smart Child and learn more about helping your child who has sensory processing issues.