Occupational therapy is a science-based practice designed to help people live their everyday lives. For children experiencing developmental and behaviour delays or difficulties, occupational therapy can help them to master simple but vital skills, like brushing their teeth and playing with their friends.
If you’re just looking into the benefits of occupational therapy, here are some key ways it can help.
How can occupational therapy help my child?
Occupational therapy can help a child in some critical areas of development, such as:
Both fine and gross motor skills can be improved with the help of occupational therapy. For example, with good gross motor skills, children can enjoy:
- Playing catch and other ball games
- Playing in general – running, hopping, skipping, and dancing
- Improved posture and balance
- Better rhythm
- Improved spatial awareness
And when it comes to fine motor skills, children will need these for:
- Holding a pen or pencil, and therefore drawing and writing
- Pinching and gripping other objects
- Threading (for example, putting beads on a necklace)
- Playing with play dough
- Using scissors
Fine and gross motor skills are an essential part of a child’s development. Luckily, there are many activities parents can do at home with their children to improve fine and gross motor skills! We’ll touch on those a little later in this article, so keep reading.
Occupational therapy can help children with basic life skills: holding and using a knife and fork, lacing up their shoes, brushing their teeth, and so on.
These skills are essential for giving a child independence, both now and later in life.
Occupational therapy can also help when it comes to managing emotions. Children may get frustrated when they cannot easily do what their peers are doing – access to occupational therapy can help children learn to express this in a healthy way.
When should I seek professional support?
Ideally, you should seek support from an occupational therapist sooner rather than later.
If you feel your child would benefit from the support of an occupational therapist, it’s worth chatting to your child’s teacher or childcare provider about it – they may be able to make a referral, or at least give you some ideas on how to seek support.
Your GP is, of course, an excellent point of call for referrals on the NHS.
However, the waiting list for children’s occupational therapists is a bit daunting in some areas. If you want to cut the wait time and you have the resources to pay for a private OT, you can find registered therapists from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists. This is the best place to go for qualified, registered therapists.
If your child needs access to specialist equipment – like wheelchairs, bathing equipment, and communication devices – your occupational therapist should be able to help your child (and the wider family) adjust to this equipment and should be a point of contact for any problems.
Occupational therapy doesn’t just have to happen in a professional setting. You can help your child at home by engaging in therapeutic play.
For example, if your aim is to strengthen your child’s hand grip, you can play with play dough – it sounds simple, but regular playing with dough can build strength in those muscles, allowing your child greater control.
For gross motor skills, simple acts like throwing a soft ball back and forth in the garden or having your child help with chores can help to improve gross motor skills. These are, of course, everyday activities that many parents do naturally with their children anyway.
It’s worth noting that for children with developmental or behavioural delays, seeking outside support is going to be crucial. However, some simple activities can help while you wait.
You can also look for resources like Hands On Fun Occupational Therapy, which offers ten-minute videos with exercises for parents to try at home!