Happy Occupational Therapy Month! || A Pediatric OT Primer from Jill Loftus

By Jill Loftus

April is Occupational Therapy Month!

What is Pediatric Occupational Therapy?

Pediatric occupational therapists or OTs get to work and play with children, while collaborating with families, caregivers, and educators to promote occupation or meaningful activities that support the health, well-being, and development of a child. By identifying and meeting the needs of children, organizing and adapting the environment to support a child’s performance, modeling and teaching skills and strategies, we can optimize the child’s independence and participation in all aspects of daily life tasks. Our training is based on the foundation of science and rehabilitation, blended with a rich understanding of child development and a holistic, client centered approach in the home, school and community setting.

Pediatric occupational therapists can help with a wide range of skills. Let’s look at the most common areas pediatric occupational therapists address.

Development

The primary occupations of infants, toddlers, and young children are playing, learning, and interacting with caregivers and, eventually, their peers. We look at the whole child by looking at their physical development of their big muscles (jumping and climbing) and small muscles (coloring, cutting and handwriting); how their eyes and hands work together; how they participate in their day to day routine like getting dressed, eating, bathing; how they take in and process sensory information like touch, body movement and awareness, sights and sounds, smell/taste; learning to cope and regulate with various situations and promoting social skill development. 

Education

Occupational therapy practitioners work with students in preschool, and elementary, middle, and high school to support successful learning, appropriate behavior, and participation in daily routines and activities. Services can be provided under the federal programs. Practitioners also support children as they transition throughout the school environments, such as from preschool to kindergarten. In addition, OTs work closely with classroom teachers and administration to provide education, tools and modifications for successful student experiences.

Injury

When a child experiences a serious illness or injury, medically based or rehabilitative occupational therapy services may be provided. These services are developmentally appropriate and may emphasize physical skills to increase movement, strength, and/or coordination; and adaptive skills or equipment to address deficits in cognitive and executive function, strategies to integrate sensory information, visual motor and perception, and the ability to form appropriate social and interpersonal relationships, with a goal of improving the child’s functional performance and independence.

Emotional-Behavioral

Occupational therapy practitioners have training in psychosocial and mental health conditions and are well suited to address children’s emotional and behavioral needs as they relate to everyday activities and social interactions. For example, occupational therapy practitioners help children develop the ability to cope with challenges, and to use calming strategies to deal with frustration, defuse anger, and manage impulsivity in order to succeed at individual tasks and collaborative interactions at home, at school, and in the community. OTs provide education and coaching support for parents and caregivers as well.

As children grow older, skills for success in independent living become essential. Occupational therapy practitioners address self-determination and self-advocacy skills, along with the transition into adult roles.

Active participation of caregivers and families in their children’s lives is crucial to helping them achieve their greatest potential. If you would like to dive deeper into your child’s development and/or functional performance abilities, caregivers can consult with their physician, local health clinic, hospital outpatient clinic, or educational service district to request an occupational therapy referral.

If you would like to learn more about your child’s development, sign up for a workshop at The Family Room.

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