Pediatric occupational therapy – what is it?

Happy Occupational Therapy Month! I am so excited to help spread awareness of what occupational therapy is and how it can help children! I want to first walk you through a conversation that happens frequently in my life:

Someone asking me: “What is your job?”

Me: “I’m an occupational therapist.”

Someone: “Oh nice! So what is that?”

I have also had people ask me if I help people find ‘occupations’ when they do not know what career path they want to take. In my career as an occupational therapist, it has nothing to do with those! As a pediatric occupational therapist I help children become as independent as possible in their daily occupations.

What does an occupational therapist help children with?

So what exactly are children’s occupations? Depending on their age…. Play! School! Socializing! Hygiene! A few examples of skills that occupational therapy can help a child with are:

  • attention (joint attention, participating in sedentary tasks)
  • sensory processing (tolerating and functionally registering stimuli from our 5 external senses and 2 internal senses)
  • motor coordination (decreasing falling, improving throwing / catching)
  • handwriting (copying skills, staying between the lines, writing legibly)
  • play skills (imaginary play, socialization)
  • fine motor skills (picking up small objects, using scissors, holding a pencil), gross motor skills (jumping, climbing, skipping, rolling over, standing)
  • activities of daily living (brushing teeth, getting dressed / undressed, tying shoes, zippering).

Difficulty in just a few of these skills can result in difficulty in a child’s occupation. Occupational therapists see the child as a ‘whole” and address underlying difficulties the child may be having that is keeping them from engaging in their occupations the best they can.

What is Occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is a way to help children achieve their best; with varying abilities, each child’s best is something different. For example: for one child, their best for right now may be tying their shoes in a modified way because of finger weakness; another child’s best may be writing their name on paper with raised lines to assist keeping their letters within a certain space. Occupational therapists initially assess a child’s current skills through a standardized evaluation, observation of the child, and a discussion with the caregiver(s). The assessment allows the child’s skills to be compared to children of their same age. It also yields clear goals that the therapist, family, and child will work towards during the course of treatment. These goals can be altered during a re-evaluation, once the child begins to make progress and achieves the goals.

A course of treatment can last a few months or a few years, depending on the severity, the amount of carryover the child engages in at home, and their attendance. Occupational therapists encourage carryover of activities / interventions at home. Consistency yields the best and quickest results. Now speaking as a parent, I know it can be very difficult to be expected to complete additional homework daily with a child. Occupational therapists work with caregivers to fit in the carryover into the child’s daily schedule. For example: if a child needs to improve strength in his arms and wheelbarrow walks daily are recommended… the occupational therapist can recommend that the child engages in wheelbarrow walks during his morning and nighttime routine while he goes from his bedroom to the bathroom and vice-versa.

How does occupational therapy for a child also help the whole family?

Occupational therapy can help the whole family by improving the child’s independence (thus lessening some assistance from the family) as well as improve behaviors that are secondary from any difficulties that the child is having (behaviors impact the whole family for sure… speaking as a mama!!)

I love my career, love to spread the word about the wonderful things occupational therapy can do, and most importantly, I love to help children and families improve their quality of life. The skill-set I have developed has even come in handy with my spunky, sensory seeking 2.5 year old! Now owning a business, I am able to assist more children and families through the help of the wonderful therapists working for Jump Ahead Pediatric Therapy!

About Brittany

Brittany Smith  is co-owner of Jump Ahead Pediatric Therapy in Jersey City, an occupational therapist, and most importantly a mom to a spunky 2.5 year old boy. She enjoys living a healthy lifestyle, going to the gym, spending time with her family, being outdoors, and engaging in retail therapy. Brittany has experience of working with children of all ages and abilities and has treated in many different pediatric settings. She is certified in The Listening Program, Physical Agent Modalities, Kinesio-tape, and has received training in Handwriting Without Tears, Floortime DIR, SOS Feeding Protocol, Sensory Processing, and many more! She currently enjoys evaluating children who are beginning their therapy journey as well as working with the wonderful therapists and staff at Jump Ahead Pediatric Therapy!