Occupational therapy is a holistic, client-centered therapy that aims to promote health and well-being in individuals of all ages. While many people are familiar with occupational therapy for adults, there’s an awareness gap on its benefits for children. That’s why “How can occupational therapy help my child?” is a frequently asked question.

A child may use occupational therapy to address a variety of difficulties. The most common reason is to help manage the spectrum of learning, developmental, or behavioral challenges faced by children with ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, or emotional imbalance. Occupational therapy (sometimes referred to as OT) incorporates daily efforts to help cope with physical disabilities or learning difficulties.

Please note that the earlier a child starts therapy, the more effective it is. Early intervention leads to better outcomes, and this article will explain why. Let’s start by explaining what occupational therapists do for children.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do for Children?

Occupational therapists help children who face challenges in developing the skills necessary for everyday living, like dressing, playing, learning, and socializing. They use a holistic approach, considering the physical aspect as well as the child’s emotional and cognitive needs. 

Some of the specific tasks that occupational therapists do with children may include:

  • Developing fine motor skills, such as handwriting and manipulating small objects.
  • Improving gross motor skills, like balance and coordination.
  • Enhancing sensory processing abilities to better respond to stimuli from the environment.
  • Teaching self-care tasks, such as grooming and feeding oneself.
  • Assisting in developing social skills and building relationships with others.

Apart from dealing directly with children, these therapists also train parents and caregivers to continue therapy at home, reinforcing it beyond scheduled sessions.

Signs That a Child May Need Occupational Therapy

We all want our children to be able to handle whatever life throws their way. Accepting that our child may need extra support to reach their potential can be challenging, but it’s always good to be open-minded and observant.

How can you tell if your child may benefit from occupational therapy? Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Lack of coordination and balance is often seen through clumsiness or difficulty with sports activities.
  • Sensory processing issues, like being overly sensitive to certain textures, sounds, or smells. These children may commonly avoid certain activities or become overwhelmed in noisy or busy environments.
  • The trouble with organization and time management often results in forgetfulness, disorganization, and difficulty following routines.
  • Difficulty maintaining attention and focus on tasks for an appropriate amount of time, impacting school performance and social interactions. 
  • When toilet training, children may struggle with potty training or bed-wetting past the age of five. 
  • Delayed or inconsistent development in self-care skills, such as dressing, bathing, and buttoning clothes.

These are just some of the tell-tale signs your child might benefit from occupational therapy. If you notice these behaviors in your child, seeking professional help to determine if occupational therapy is the right option for your child is essential. 

Importance of Early Intervention

As previously mentioned, the earlier a child starts occupational therapy, the better their outcomes will be. Let’s take a closer look at why early intervention is crucial for children who may benefit from occupational therapy:

  1. Brain Plasticity: Children’s brains are still developing and have high plasticity, meaning they can adapt and change more easily than adults. So, it’s easier for children to learn new skills, making early intervention optimal for improving a child’s abilities.
  2. Prevents Developmental Delays: Identifying and addressing challenges in a child’s development at an early age can prevent delays in reaching developmental milestones. Occupational therapy can help children catch up with their peers and improve their overall development.
  3. Improves Social Interactions: Children learn social skills through play, interaction, and daily activities. Early intervention can support children in developing these skills and improving their relationships with peers.
  4. Increases Independence: Early intervention can help children develop the skills needed to perform everyday tasks independently, such as dressing, eating, and grooming. It improves their self-confidence and prepares them for success in school and life.
  5. Saves Time and Money: By addressing challenges early on, occupational therapy can potentially reduce the need for long-term therapy in the future. It saves time and money for both families and the healthcare system.
  6. Creates Positive Habits: Children who receive early intervention for occupational therapy are more likely to develop positive habits and strategies for overcoming challenges. It attracts long-term benefits.
  7.  Enhances Academic Performance: Children who receive occupational therapy early on can improve their fine motor skills, visual perception, and attention span. It helps with handwriting, reading, and other school activities, setting a solid foundation for academic success.

Occupational Therapy for Different Age Groups

Just because earlier interventions are best, that doesn’t mean later interventions won’t be helpful. It’s never too early or too late to seek help from an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy benefits kids of all ages and at all stages of development. Here are some ways occupational therapy can support children in different age groups:

Occupational Therapy for Toddlers

Babies and toddlers typically learn through play, exploration, and sensory experiences. Occupational therapy can help if you notice that your child is struggling with basic developmental milestones, such as:

  • Reaching for objects.
  • Rolling over.
  • Crawling.
  • Walking.

An occupational therapist can create a play-based program that targets these specific areas of development. The program should involve fun, engaging activities that help the child build strength, coordination, and motor skills.

Parents and siblings can also be involved in these therapy sessions for better learning and bonding experiences.

Occupational Therapy for Preschoolers and Young Children

Preschoolers and young children are at a crucial stage of development where they learn to master self-care skills, social interactions, and academic tasks. Occupational therapy can support this stage by helping children with:

  • Dressing and grooming.
  • Feeding themselves.
  • Playing independently or in groups.

Occupational therapy can also help children with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia or ADHD. The therapist provides strategies to improve their attention and focus in the classroom.

Occupational Therapy for School-Aged Children

As children enter school, they face new challenges that require fine motor skills and attention. Occupational therapy can assist these children by improving their handwriting skills, visual perception, and organization abilities. 

It can also support children with sensory processing, coordination, and concentration difficulties. The occupational therapist can work with the child’s teachers to implement accommodations in the classroom to help them succeed.

Occupational Therapy for Adolescents

Occupational therapy can also benefit adolescents by helping them develop skills for independent living and future employment. An occupational therapist can assist with:

  • Time management.
  • Money management.
  • Interview skills.
  • Resume building.

These skills are essential for teenagers to transition into adulthood successfully. 

How Long Does a Child Need Occupational Therapy?

The duration of occupational therapy sessions and the length of time a child may need therapy can vary depending on their individual needs. Some children may only require short-term therapy, while others may benefit from long-term intervention.

Therapists design sessions, so they’ll recommend how long and frequent every session should be. Their recommendations vary depending on individual cases, but here’s how it goes generally:

  1. Span 30-90 minutes (with breaks for longer sessions.)
  2. One or two sessions every week.

However, therapy should continue even in the therapist’s absence. It’s essential to remember that every child is unique and may require a different treatment plan. Some children may see significant progress in a few months, while others may need therapy for several years.

Embrace Occupational Therapy for Kids

Occupational therapy can significantly impact a child’s life, helping them gain independence and reach their full potential. If you believe your child could benefit from occupational therapy, consult with a therapy provider who has the ability to make a referral for you.

There’s a difference between child therapists, child psychologists, and psychiatrists. You want to specifically look for a therapist trained and experienced in identifying needs that can be helped by a pediatric occupational therapist so you know you can get a referral and won’t end up having to jump through unnecessary hoops in your journey to getting your child all the help they need.

If you are looking for child therapists near you in Louisville, Kentucky, and surrounding areas, check out the advanced and compassionate child therapy services by Innovative Family Therapy. We’ll help you every step of the way!