What is Occupational Therapy and Can It Help My Child? - Integrate Family (2023)

Confused about what Occupational Therapy is and if it can help your child? You are at the right place! Inform yourself and learn how to help your child! Learn how Occupational Therapy can help understand the your child’s strengths and their underlying difficulties. And what to do about it!

When I was a senior in high school, we had to take one of those tests that said what you should do with your life. Of course, at 17 years old, I had no idea. I took the test and I would like to say I put a ton of research into it, but like I said, I was 17.

The two careers that came up for me was Social Worker or an Occupational Therapist. Well, of course, I had no idea what Occupational Therapy was and realized I could get a Social Work degree at the state university where my best friend was going.

The decision of a lifetime was literally made within 15 minutes during library!

Fast forward to my senior year of college. I had a work study position at the Career Services department on campus and I had to help put together a career fair.

I would like to think of it as a type of fate, because there was a university at the career fair with a large poster for their Occupational Therapy Masters Program.

Suddenly, I remembered that test I took in high school! I had to check it out and started to read their brochure.

My heart started to race and I held in my excitement out of fear of embarrassment. This was it! The program literally described everything that I loved!

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The program highlighted the anatomy classes, pathophysiology classes, physical disabilities, neurology, research, problem solving (or more formally stated task analysis) and how to best support families and individuals to gain independence, just to name a few!

This was it!! This was the perfect marriage of the science, research and helping people that I had been searching for, but at 17 years old was too lazy to google. Although, to be fair, I’m not even sure google was a thing back then.

I immediately started to look into the cost of school and what classes I would have to take to get into graduate school. I worked some very emotionally intense Social Work jobs as I continued to take prerequisites and grew so much as a person.

My boyfriend through college became my husband and we were off to Arizona for graduate school!

What is Occupational Therapy?

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What is Occupational Therapy is a common question that I get whenever I talk to well, anyone, to be honest. Most people think I help others get a job, but au contraire!

We help people gain the skills for the job of living! What the what does that mean?

Occupational Therapy is an evidenced based health profession. What we do is based on research and knowing how our bodies and brains work! You can check out our national association (AOTA) here if you want more information!

When I am first evaluating an individual, I will often explain what Occupational Therapy is and what they can expect in the setting that I work.

It is truly very specific to what area an Occupational Therapist works in, because there are so many settings. Occupational Therapist can work in schools, outpatient clinics, inpatient rehabilitation clinics, mental health facilitates, hand therapy clinics, work hardening programs, vision clinics, skilled nursing facilities and home health. And that’s just for starters!

Since I am currently working with children and serving families, I will focus on what Occupational Therapy looks like in this situation. We often refer to working with children and families, as being a pediatric Occupational Therapist.

What Does a Pediatric Occupational Therapist Evaluate?

So you might be wondering….what does a Pediatric Occupational Therapist do exactly?

When I first get a referral, I complete an evaluation. Each evaluation is different and based on the reasons stated on the referral. But most importantly, what mom or dad are saying they are having a hard time with at home, school or when out in the community.

Are aim at an evaluation is to learn what the child’s strengths are, the child’s challenges and how that is affecting what they (or parents, in a child’s case) would like to be able to do.

In general, we are evaluating:

  • the child’s skills (see below)
  • how the environment supports their current development
  • what changes in the environment could be made to increase development

We find out this information by asking you lots of questions, completing tests that have been through tons of research and doing lots of observations.

Areas of possible Occupational Therapy evaluation (in no particular order):

  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Self-Care Skills (for example, dressing, brushing teeth, toileting)
  • Sensory Processing (how they handle and react movement, touch, sound, smells, is able to tell where their body is)
  • Strength
  • Coordination (eye-hand coordination, coordination of both sides of their body)
  • Motor Planning and Timing (if they can make their body do what they want when they want to do it)
  • Social Skills
  • Feeding Skills (for example, increasing variety of foods or using silverware)
  • Play skills
  • Executive Functioning (for example, how organized they are or their working memory)
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Important reminder: Now, you also need to understand that every Occupational Therapist has different trainings beyond their regular schooling. Depending on how long they have been practicing and what continuing education they have taken, their evaluations might look slightly different.

Our goal is not to just tell you that your child is behind in a certain area. Instead, our goal is to figure out the underlying reasons why they are having a hard time doing what they should be doing.

The treatment plan is to work on the foundational skills to then meet the goals that you have for your child.

The goals that your child works on in therapy and what your therapist can give you information on are based on what’s important to you!

If your child is evaluated in a school, there goals (by law) have to focus on helping them with what they have to do in school. School services will be delivered during school hours at school.

If your child is evaluated in a clinic or your home, you and your therapist will set up a time that will work for the both of you to work on your child’s goals. How long you do therapy is based on what your goals are and what is possible within your family as well.

The therapist will explain what and why they did what they did with your child during a session and will provide ideas and suggestions to complete at home to support their development.

Can Occupational Therapy Help My Child?

You would seek out help from an Occupational Therapist if your child is having a hard time doing the same things that other children their age are doing.

Sometimes it’s very obvious that they are having a hard time, but other times your momma gut tells you something is not quite right.

Sometimes, your momma gut is off when you notice that your child doesn’t want to engage in play with the other kids or is always screaming at birthday parties. Maybe, your child is still holding onto their crayon with their whole hand when their friends are using their fingers. Perhaps, you notice that your child is not able to follow along to those cute little action songs.

Other times your child might not seem to really struggle until they are older and the demands increase at school or what they are expected to do at home. Maybe you notice they seem to get loss somewhere else in the house when you ask them to go get a pair of socks. Or perhaps, you can’t even read their handwriting.

Each area has different services and talking with your child’s pediatrician is usually a great place to start. If your pediatrician agrees with the difficulties that you are noticing, the pediatrician will give a referral.

How Occupational Therapy Has Helped Me

Fast forward all these years of practicing as an Occupation Therapist. I can truly tell you that I have found my true passion!

I have walked through very difficult times with so many different amazing people! Girlfriend, I can’t even tell you how much respect and admiration I have for you!

Occupational Therapy has given me the knowledge and framework to help make a difference in hundreds of children’s lives. They have gained skills and will be more independent as an adult as a result!

The profession of Occupational Therapy has allowed me to help my own child. Help that my child would not have received. The only difference is I just happened to go to school to be an Occupational Therapist (yep, that whole fate thing came back around!!)

I am more passionate and understanding of what you may be going through. Not only do I work with families and children that are working hard to gain more skills.

I feel all the feelings of what it is like to watch my child have a hard time doing what other kids are doing.

But, I also have had the emotions of overwhelming joy when he is able to do something that he has never done before. I have the sense of wellbeing knowing that I have helped my child!!

Let me know if the comments if you have any other questions!

I am here to help you walk on your journey!

Candice Curtis is a licensed Occupational Therapist and the founder of Integrate Family. She is passionate about helping and empowering parents and their children. Candice has advanced postgraduate training in theory, assessment, interpretation and treatment in Ayers Sensory Integration. She is a Certified Autism Specialist with expertise in sensory processing, coordination disorders, learning disorders and executive functioning. Candice also has 2 boys of her own at home, one of which has a developmental disorder. Learn more about her here.

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