Should my ‘typically developing’ child see an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapy is a health profession that is not truly understood by the general public – even sometimes by University students studying it!
It is such a varied discipline, that as a uni student (studying OT) one of the hardest things to do is to define it and describe it to others. Unfortunately this is a HUGE downfall in our profession as it leads the general public to have a poor perception of what we do.

The most common statements I have heard over the years in relation to my job have been:
“oh so you do OH&S”
“so can you fix the muscle soreness in my back?”
“ You do back to work rehab right?”
“so what do you do for work again?”

My daughter (aged 3) defines it really well – “Mummy talks to her friends at work and plays with the kids” – This is pretty accurate (although in the words of a 3 year old).

As a Paediatric Occupational Therapist I talk to other health professionals, parents, teachers and significant others in the child’s life (to my daughter these are my ‘friends’) and then therapy is play based, so to a person looking on (or my daughter visiting my work) I ‘play.’ This play is very well structured (even though it is child led) to build up the clients functional skills in a fun, interactive and engaging manner.

So the question that was asked was “what does an OT do and should my ‘typically developing’ child see you?”

Basically in a nut shell if your child is having difficulty in an area of their functional/daily life then yes an OT can help!

I have seen clients for things as little as:

  • Tying their shoelaces – one particular child I can think of had his parents try and try and try to teach him, but he just couldn’t get it. Within 1-2 OT sessions this boy was able to tie his shoelaces independently (quite slow but it was a huge improvement) – You may be asking why this child picked it up so quick in OT compared to when his parents were teaching him.

OT’s are trained at breaking down a task, determining where the area of need is, working on that need and integrating it back into the task.

  • Using a knife and fork – this particular child was in year 5 and could not co-ordinate her hands to cut anything (not fish, not playdoh not anything). It turned out her bilateral co-ordination was slightly behind and she had the knife and fork in the opposite hands than she should have had for her hand dominance – a few sessions and she was discharged.
  • Hand dominance –I have worked with lots of children who do not have a strong hand dominance and through discussions, observations and assessment a solution can be found.
    If your child is in kindergarten/preschool and you are unsure of their hand dominance an OT can help you determine which their dominant hand is or help them further their neurological development to help them work it out for themselves.Occupational Therapy does not need to be a long term intervention – small specific goals like these are often a part of our work

However some typically developing children do need OT intervention for longer periods of time. Some of these reasons could be (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Concentration – Many children in this generation are having difficulty sitting and attending in the classroom situation. This is an area that an OT can help with as it is often their sensory system that is having difficulty regulating and OT’s work extensively on self-regulation!
  • Handwriting – This would be the biggest area of need in typically developing children. Handwriting is a skill that requires A LOT of underlying developmental skills. Letter formations, letter placement, letter size, pencil grip, pencil pressure, fluency, parallelity etc. these are all linked to other foundational skills that are used in other daily tasks not just writing.
    So when a child has difficulty writing it is never a good idea to say “oh he is a boy – he just doesn’t like it” or “everyone does most things on computers these days anyway – so it’s not important” These are statements I hear a lot and when I do I often question their child’s ability at other tasks – can your child skip? Does your child miss words when copying form the board? Does your child have poor organisational skills? Does your child have co-ordination difficulties? Can your child isolate all their fingers and combinations of fingers? Can your child complete any fine motor task for prolonged periods of time? These are just a few of the other symptoms of deficiency in underlying skills. Handwriting is always going to be needed to some degree and our children need to have legible and functional writing.
  • My child just seems to find school difficult – there are often some underlying reasons why a child finds school hard. It might be retained primitive reflexes, poor motor planning, difficulty with sensory modulation, poor fine motor skills, visual perception concerns, midline crossing skills etc. An OT can determine what area of development your child needs support in and then integrate it back into functional tasks.

So in summary if you’re concerned about how your typically developing child is participating in any of their occupational roles then consider seeing an OT – no matter how big or small the area of need is.