What if your child is struggling to keep up in school, make friends, or accomplish everyday tasks?

Occupational therapy can help with that

Occupational Therapy

“Why would a child need occupational therapy? Kids don’t have jobs!” Megan Bresnahan, a Fairview pediatric occupational therapist, hears that pretty often. Her response?  “Kids do have jobs. Their job is to develop and grow – to play, to go to school, to dress themselves.”

If your child is struggling in those everyday activities of being a kid, this is what might be going on under the surface.

Sensory processing issues

Sensory processing is all about how children perceive their world. “It’s what they see, what they hear, what they feel … how they put all that together to get through their day,” Megan says. If a child has sensory processing difficulties, “it’s like a traffic jam in the brain.” Some of the signs include:

  • Aversion to clothing textures, loud noises, or other stimuli
  • Refusing to eat or touch certain foods
  • Seeking a lot of sensory input by crashing into things or putting everything in their mouth

Occupational therapy can help a child regulate these responses and cope with external stimulation.

Sensory motor integration issues

Sensory motor integration is the connection between the brain and the body. Messages from the brain tell children how to move their bodies in space, how to achieve balance, and how to successfully maneuver objects like a bat, ball, or pencil. When this connection isn’t working as well as it should, children may:

  • Have difficulty moving through a crowded space without bumping into others or into furniture
  • Be unable to balance as well as other kids when hopping on one foot, playing sports, etc.
  • Face challenges with handwriting and putting on clothes
  • Have trouble with eye-hand related tasks like hitting a ball or copying from a blackboard

For those with sensory motor integration challenges, “we help them see what’s going on in their environment,” Megan says. “They also learn visual skills like being able to pick an item out of a background.”

Occupational therapists can help these children with such activities as playing with blocks, drawing, cutting with scissors, or using fasteners on clothing.

“We’re teaching them self-care skills,” Megan says. “Things like getting dressed, feeding themselves, or making a simple meal.” 

Cognitive/executive function issues

“This is all about problem-solving,” Megan explains. Executive function means all the mental skills your child needs to organize themselves and complete tasks. You may notice your child

  • Gives up when frustrated or if something goes wrong
  • Loses track when a task like cleaning their bedroom involves multiple steps or doesn’t know how to begin a homework assignment
  • Gets distracted or has trouble following through on a project once begun

Occupational therapy can help a patient learn to manage a group of tasks and to manage feelings of frustration so they don’t become overwhelming or hinder their progress.

Recognize any of those signs in your child? Here’s what to do

Megan emphasizes the importance of parents trusting their instincts and asking their pediatrician for an occupational therapy referral. “If a child is struggling in school, struggling with tasks, struggling to keep up with or fit in with their peers, we can follow up on that.”

“It’s great to have the discussion,” she says. “You can always go and do an evaluation. Maybe your child will need to come once a week. Or maybe he or she will be fine with a program you can do at home.”   

The therapist might even discover a previously unknown source of your child’s challenges. “Sometimes after an exam, I might tell a parent, ‘I think you should get your child’s hearing tested,’ ” Megan says.

Whether it’s your toddler or teenager, the goal is to give them the tools they need to live their best lives.

Find a Fairview Pediatric Therapy clinic near you.  

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