A child’s earliest years are filled with new experiences that drive their cognitive, social and physical growth. The first 3 years in a child’s life are the most critical for the brain development, especially if a child is delayed in development. Early intervention is a collective therapy that provides children from birth to 3 years who have disabilities or are at a risk of developing; to help them cope later in life.

Occupational therapy is one of the several therapies that benefit children with many conditions such as Down syndrome, Autism, developmental delays,birth injuries or defects, sensory processing disorders, learning problems, autism, behavioral problems, burns, cerebral palsy and other chronic illnesses,

The therapy can help improve their motor, physical, cognitive, sensory processing, communication, play skills and enhance their self-esteem. The main goal is to enhance development, minimize delay and support families meet the needs of their children,

People may think that occupational therapy is just for adults; after all, what’s a child’s occupation? A child’s main occupation is playing and learning, hence, occupational therapists promote active participation in occupations that are meaningful to them. They evaluate a child’s skills for playing, school performance and activities of daily living (ADL’s) and compare them with their developmentally appropriate age group.

The interventions address the developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling, walking independently, learning to pay attention and follow simple instructions; develop the ability to eat, drink, wash and dress independently; learning to cope with failure, skills for sharing, taking turns, playing with peers, participating in age appropriate daily routines.

Occupational therapists work closely with parents/caregivers and other professionals to identify and meet the child’s needs; be it a delay or challenges their development. The therapist evaluates the child, bearing in mind the goals the parents have for their child and identifies activities that parents and caregivers can work with throughout the day to reinforce a skill and enable new learning.

Usually, children learn skills within the context they will be used on daily basis. For example, parents might be concerned that their child cannot pick food to finger feed. An occupational therapist identifies activities that the child can practice to isolate the index finger and grasping small things. Also, the therapist and parents might develop strategies to adapt meal times with larger bits of food for easy grasping, press buttons on the remote control, point to pictures in story books.

Incorporating therapy into regular occupations is the fundamental work of occupational therapy.

Occupational therapists also:

  • Help kids work on fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting skills.
  • Address hand-eye coordination to improve kids' play and school skills (hitting a target, batting a ball, copying from a blackboard, etc.)
  • Help kids with severe developmental delays learn basic tasks (such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and feeding themselves)
  • Help kids with behavioral disorders maintain positive behaviors in all environments (e.g., instead of hitting others or acting out, using positive ways to deal with anger, such as writing about feelings or participating in a physical activity)
  • Teach kids with physical disabilities the coordination skills needed to feed themselves, use a computer, or increase the speed and legibility of their handwriting
  • Evaluate a child's need for specialized equipment, such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, or communication aids.
  • Work with kids who have sensory and attention issues to improve focus and social skills

Active participation of caregivers and families in the development of their challenged child is crucial in order to help the child achieve their greatest potential. Hence, if you as parents/caregivers are concerned about your child’s development/slow progress, and/or their functional performance abilities – do not hesitate and consult your physician or request for an occupational therapy referral.

Article contributed by:

Fathema Hasham
Occupational Therapist

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