Occupational therapy…”hmm, yeah, I have heard of it”..”but, umm...what is it that you do again?”
“You help people get jobs right?”...
“Wait...you’re a pediatric occupational therapist?
"Well….why would children need jobs?”
If I had a nickel for every time I have heard a similar conversation I would be RICH! SO...what is occupational therapy and what do we do when it comes to a population of children? First off, we don’t help your child get a job, however, we can help provide skills that one needs for a job in the future. Instead, we enjoy being called the specialists that are going to teach your child how to use their brain and hands together while sitting upright in a chair. Let’s begin with what our brain and hands are doing. Think about how much you do with your hands throughout a day. We button up our shirt, we feed ourselves with a spoon, we grab our seat belt to lock in place, we hold a cup to drink our large coffee out, we write to-do lists with a pen, we pick up the small M & Ms as a midday snack, we tie our tennis shoes to walk our dog...okay, you see where I am going with this. Everything we do with our hands begins with a plan in our head and is then executed with movements of our body, this is called motor planning. This motor planning allows us to accomplish everything we do in a day...which explains the brain part. But now our hands, too?? I promise I will make it simple. Our arms and hands make all of these activities possible through how we move, grasp, and manipulate items in our everyday life. Period. So as occupational therapists, we help to coordinate what our brain and hands are doing and provide the tools needed for your child to be able to control their upper body movements and manipulate objects to complete necessary activities across their environments. “Okay...but upright in a chair?” “What?!” Well, that takes us to the “foreign language” part of occupational therapy... What do I mean by saying upright in a chair? We do focus a lot on what our arms and hands are doing, but we can’t even begin to observe that if we aren’t sitting upright in a chair, or sitting pleasantly on the ground, or having enough balance to stand up tall, right? This is where the sensory approach comes in. I know when we think about sensory we think about our five main senses we learned in elementary school: touch, taste, smell, sight, hear...but did you know there are actually 8 sensory systems in our bodies? The last three that we don’t learn about are vestibular (knowing where our body is in space), proprioceptive (movement of our muscles and joints in relation with the rest of our body), and interoception (what our internal organs are feeling) systems. All of these systems work together in order for us to sit in a chair, stay in a chair, and attend in a chair. “Okay...so what? We have 8 sensory systems...what does that have to do with occupational therapy?” Well, I will tell you. Occupational therapists are magical masters in finding how your child processes sensory input coming in from all directions, then we provide fun activities that helps the child process that input better (without them even knowing it, WHAT?!), and then the child learns how to attend to their teacher or you, control their emotions, sleep better, or EVEN SIT UPRIGHT IN A CHAIR without falling or causing disruptions. We all have sensory needs and we all process these systems differently. A lot of the time, for adults, we learn how to regulate without help...such as tapping a pencil or a foot in a meeting, chewing gum, doing a midday stretch, etc. We have just naturally learned what is going to help us stay awake or attend to someone or something. “So...how do I know if my child may need occupational therapy?” Great Question! Some things to look for: ● Trouble holding items (such as spoon/fork, writing utensil, etc) ● Maintaining a grasp on such items ● Uninterested or avoid activities with small manipulatives (beads, cutting, writing) ● Does not use both hands/sides of body ● Trouble finding objects in a background ● Handwriting difficulties ● Picky eating ● Avoids messy play ● Avoids movement (climbing, swinging, etc) ● Seeks movement constantly ● Seeks tight hugs, consistently pushing/falling into you ● Requires specific clothing and clothing materials ● Seems to require their name to be called a few times before noticing ● Enjoys chewing/biting objects ● Avoids loud/ busy places ● Loses balance easily I know...you’re thinking “maybe some of these things happen but I am just not sure if it is normal or if it means anything more than just being a kid.” Well, GREAT NEWS. Here, at Reaching New Heights, we offer FREE, yes…..I said FREE, screenings to assess if your child might need more help from the brain and hand specialists, the magical sensory masters. Feel free to contact me with any questions/concerns or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org