As a parent of a child with autism, you know the daily struggles and joys that come with raising a child on the spectrum. You want the best for your child and are always looking for ways to support their growth and development.
While numerous therapies are helpful to these special children, most parents choose occupational therapy for its wonderful benefits and the way children respond to it.
Occupational therapy (OT)
can be a valuable tool for children with autism, helping them to improve their physical, sensory, and social-emotional skills.
Whether your child is having difficulty with fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, or sensory processing, a pediatric occupational therapist can work with them to address these challenges and support their overall growth.
In this article, we will explore how children's occupational therapy can help your child and the benefits it can bring to their daily life.
What Is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy (OT) is a science-based study or a branch of health care that can be helpful for individuals of all ages who have physical, sensory, or cognitive problems. OT is a type of therapy that focuses on helping people to develop and improve the skills they need to participate in everyday activities and reach their full potential.
This can include activities of daily living, such as dressing, eating, and using the bathroom, as well as leisure and play activities.
Pediatric occupational therapists work with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to address a variety of challenges, including:
- Fine motor skills – improving dexterity, hand strength, and coordination.
- Sensory processing – helping the child to better understand and regulate sensory input from the environment.
- Social-emotional skills – building communication and interaction skills through play-based activities.
- Self-care – teaching the child independent living skills such as toileting, dressing, and grooming.
Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: How Are They Different?
Some parents get confused between occupational and physical therapy since both treatments can help their child get better at daily life activities. However, there are some significant differences in terms of focuses and goals, how these therapies are delivered, and the results you can expect.
Here’s a breakdown of the difference:
Occupational therapy focuses on helping individuals perform daily tasks and engage in meaningful activities. In addition, it is concerned with improving fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, sensory processing, and overall functional abilities.
The goal of OT is to improve an individual's ability to participate in daily life and complete work-related tasks.
Individuals of all ages with physical, developmental, or mental health challenges. Children, older adults, and individuals with disabilities commonly receive occupational therapy services.
The treatment methods used by pediatric occupational therapists vary depending on the child's needs. Treatment may include exercises to improve fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, sensory integration activities, and school-related tasks like handwriting skills.
Occupational therapy may also include the use of assistive devices or adaptive equipment to help children perform everyday tasks.
Physical therapy aims at improving physical movement and mobility. This therapy is concerned with reducing pain, improving strength and range of motion, and helping individuals recover from injuries or surgeries.
The primary goal of pediatric physical therapy is to help children gain physical abilities and improve overall functional movement.
Specialists commonly recommend physical therapy to people who have experienced injury or surgery, or have a physical condition that affects their mobility.
There are several treatment methods used by physical therapists to improve strength and mobility. Therapists use manual therapy techniques to improve the range of motion and modalities such as heat, cold, and electrical stimulation to reduce pain.
Pediatric occupational therapy and physical therapy might be different, but both can contribute to the overall growth of your child. Children with autism often experience sensory and motor skills challenges and these therapies can help them improve different skills so they can become more independent.
At Therapyland, our applied behavioral analysis experts use both occupational and physical therapies to help children with autism and other disabilities learn the basic developmental skills required for independent functioning and success throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Give your child the care they need – inquire now about the pediatric occupational therapy specialty services at each of Therapyland's three locations.
Children That Might Need Occupational Therapy
Children who have difficulties with everyday tasks, such as self-help skills, play skills, and school activities, due to physical, cognitive, emotional, or developmental issues can benefit from occupational therapy.
Below we’ve listed some common conditions that indicate that an individual should undergo occupational therapy.
Apart from these conditions, there are several mental and physical restrictions children experience, and occupational therapy can be very helpful for them. It’s important to consult a healthcare professional to better determine if occupational therapy is suitable for your child.
- Children with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and developmental delays.
- Children with birth injuries or birth defects.
- Children with broken bones or any type of orthopedic injuries.
- Children recovering from surgery or any traumatic brain injury.
Signs That Your Child Needs Occupational Therapy
As parents, we always pay attention to how our children are changing and developing. By observing how your child interacts with their surroundings, you can better understand if they need help from an occupational therapist.
Below we’ve compiled some signs that indicate your child needs occupational therapy:
Developmental milestones such as crawling, walking, and using utensils are important indicators of a child's progress. If your child is not reaching these milestones or is significantly behind their peers, it could be a sign that they need help from an occupational therapist.
One thing to note here is that every child is different, and so is their growth rate. If you are unsure whether your child is showing signs of developmental delays, it's best to consult a certified medical expert.
A few things that a doctor looks for in young children include:
The time it takes for every child to meet these milestones varies, but there are certain ages when certain things should happen. For example, babies should start responding to facial expressions by the age of one year old; if they don't, it can be a cause of concern.
- Babbling or vocal sounds.
- Your child’s ability to track faces as they crawl or walk.
- Your child’s ability to control body movement while moving.
- Your child's ability to grab and hold things.
- Typical responses to daily-life activities such as bathing, eating, changing clothes, and more.
Poor Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are crucial for day-to-day tasks such as holding a pencil, using scissors, and buttoning clothes. If your child has issues with fine motor skills, you can easily determine it by how they walk or move around. Some examples of poor fine motor skill issues that children might have include:
If you notice more than two of these signs, it’s recommended you contact your doctor for a referral to a team of occupational therapists. The OT therapy experts can further evaluate your child’s condition and help you determine if therapies are required and how they can help your child.
- Trouble grasping toys, eating utensils, and other tools.
- Difficulty with using both hands or coordinating both hands.
- Inability to use sippy cups or straws properly.
- Lengthy bottle feeding and breastfeeding.
- Tiredness after eating.
Troubles With Gross Motor Skills
If you’ve noticed poor fine motor skills in your children, you can easily see them struggling with activities that require using gross motor skills. These skills are often the first skills parents see in their children, such as how they lift up their heads or how they crawl on their tummies.
Some common signs that your child is having difficulties with gross motor skills include:
- Failing to understand the concept of right and left.
- Balance issues while walking or running.
- Fear of their feet leaving the ground.
- Avoiding games or tasks that require using motor skills.
Visual Processing Issues
Visual processing issues such as difficulty in writing and recognizing letters could mean you should consult a pediatric occupational therapist for your child.
After a certain age, children start recognizing numbers and letters and can distinguish between left and right directions, children that struggle with visual processing might have issues like autism, down syndrome, or other learning disabilities.
If your child finds it challenging to process visuals, they may find it difficult to:
- Differentiate between letters.
- Find objects among other objects.
- Understand the concept of left and right.
- Copy shapes or letters.
Sensory Processing Issues
Sensory issues can be a significant key to recognizing if your child would need to undergo occupational therapy. Children with sensory difficulties can often be seen as "withdrawn" or "behavioral." Following are the signs that your child is experiencing sensory issues:
- They avoid certain textures.
- They get triggered by unexpected and loud noises.
- They prefer to be in a dark room.
- They zone out and do not respond to instructions.
- They experience trouble when chewing and eating.
Underdeveloped Social Skills
As we grow and interact with the people around us, we all develop some social skills over time. We learn these skills based on reactions to our interactions and by creating our own habits when we are in developmental periods. However, some children find it difficult to develop their social skills and do not respond to social cues in a widely considered appropriate way.
Underdeveloped social skills in your child can show in one or more of these ways:
- Avoiding eye contact when interacting.
- Delayed language skills.
- Not interacting with family or close friends.
- Overly focused on one topic while having a conversation.
While some children with issues eventually develop the required social skills, educational challenges often seem like an insurmountable obstacle. It can become apparent quickly if your child needs more help in school than other children.
These are some signs that your child is experiencing educational challenges and needs help from an occupational therapist:
Sometimes, children fake these signs just to avoid going to classes. It's important to consult a pediatric occupational therapy expert before concluding anything.
- Learning disabilities
- Mental health concerns
- Behavior issues
What Results Can You Expect From Occupational Therapy?
Every child is unique, and the issues they are dealing with are also different, so the results and the duration can vary. An occupational therapist focuses on all aspects your child needs to live a happy life without relying on others to do basic tasks for them.
Here’s what you can expect after taking your child for occupational therapy and following the therapy routine religiously:
Improved Fine and Gross Motor Skills
Occupational therapy can improve a child's ability to coordinate and control their arms, legs, and body movements, leading to improved balance, agility, and coordination. The therapy may also target specific areas, such as hand strength and coordination, to improve fine motor skills like handwriting.
Better Sensory Processing and Regulation
Pediatric occupational therapists will determine the sensory processing issues your child is experiencing and use applied behavioral methods
to regulate their responses to sensory input. With OT, your child may learn techniques to manage and control their responses to sensory stimuli, leading to improved attention and focus.
Ability to Perform Daily Living and Self-Care Skills
Occupational therapy also focuses on improving your child’s ability to perform daily living and self-care skills such as dressing, grooming, and eating. Occupational therapists use methods like feeding therapy to ensure the child learns all basic skills and is able to perform them without someone’s intervention.
Enhanced Focus, Attention, Organization, and Play Skills
Multiple sessions of occupational therapy are helpful for your child to improve his attention, focus, organization, and play skills. Your child can also learn multiple strategies and self-help skills to prioritize tasks, focus on specific activities, and manage time.
Proper Communication Skills and Peer Interaction
Another result you can expect after taking your child for occupational therapy includes improved communication skills. Therapists make sure your child is able to communicate with their peers, and they also work on their ability to interact socially with people around them.
OT can help children learn how to participate in group activities while effectively communicating with others.
It's important to remember that progress can vary for each child, and the results of occupational therapy will depend on the child's strengths, needs, and motivations. As a parent, you should motivate your child and contribute to their own developmental growth by having sessions with occupational therapists.
Contact Therapyland for Occupational Therapy and Help Your Child Build Skills for Lifetime Success
At Therapyland, we believe that children learn and grow in a fun environment where they feel comfortable. Our expert occupational therapists go above and beyond to create the perfect learning environment for your child so they can practice life skills.
Moreover, our therapists determine the challenges your child is experiencing and create customized therapy programs for better results. We also celebrate every developmental milestone your child achieves to promote their growth and the ability to learn basic skills.
to know more about our pediatric occupational therapy services at our three locations in Georgia. We offer OT and other specialty services to help your child grow the way they deserve!