“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:
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:
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
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.