Paediatric Occupational Therapy: A Guide For Parents

As a parent, all you want is for your child to be happy and healthy, and you’ll be prepared to do anything to make it so. Bringing up a child is no easy ride though, and while you’ll provide so much love, care and support, sometimes there are developmental hurdles that you cannot control. 

For example, some parents will notice their child is having difficulties performing everyday tasks, which, while sometimes only a blip, can go on to affect their development, learning and overall wellbeing. This is where paediatric occupational therapy (OT) can help.

If you’re the parent of a child who has been referred for occupational therapy, or if you’re wondering whether occupational therapy could help your child and improve their quality of life, keep reading. We’ve put together this expert guide to help you understand more about paediatric occupational therapy, what it is, what types of issues it can aid, and how your child could benefit from it. 

What is Paediatric Occupational Therapy, and How Can it Help My Child?

Paediatric occupational therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on helping children develop the skills they need to participate in daily activities. These activities may include self-care (e.g., dressing, eating, bathing), school tasks (e.g., writing, cutting, following directions), play, and social interactions. Occupational therapists work with children who have a wide range of conditions, such as developmental delays, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, and sensory processing issues.

A paediatric occupational therapist can help your child in many ways; from helping them to refine their motor skills and critical thinking, to improving their behaviour and learning to be more independent. 

As a first port of call, an occupational therapist will assess your child’s strengths and things they find challenging, and develop a personalised treatment plan to address their specific needs. They may use several techniques and strategies in a bid to help your child improve in areas they struggle, such as:

  • Play-based activities – Play can be used to encourage your child to practise skills in a fun and engaging way
  • Sensory integration therapy – This helps your child regulate their responses to sensory stimuli and improve their overall processing abilities
  • Motor learning and neurodevelopmental strategies – These can help your child learn new motor skills and improve their movement patterns
  • Behavioural interventions – These can help your child learn new techniques for self-regulation and social interactions

Occupational therapy is often a collaborative process that involves working with parents, teachers and other health professionals to support your child’s overall development and ensure they hit developmental milestones. As your child progresses through therapy, their occupational therapist will provide ongoing feedback and support to ensure your child is making progress and achieving their goals.

5 Common Difficulties for Children

Due to the scope of paediatric occupational therapy, it is suitable for children who struggle with a range of skills required in day-to-day life. That being said, it is most commonly used for children who have difficulties with their fine motor skills, sensory processing, social skills, and things like handwriting. If your child struggles with any of these, attending an occupational therapy service could be beneficial for them. 

1. Problems with fine motor skills

Fine motor skill issues in children can present in several ways. You might notice that your child struggles with holding and manipulating objects, such as using cutlery or writing with a pencil. They might have trouble completing tasks that require hand-eye coordination, like catching a ball, or they might struggle to button or zip their clothes. 

In children with fine motor skill problems, difficulties with activities that require precise movements are common and can lead them to avoid activities altogether, especially in front of others.

Paediatric occupational therapists can help children refine and develop their fine motor skills by providing customised exercises and activities to build strength, dexterity and coordination.

2. Difficulties with handwriting

Handwriting issues might involve difficulty holding a pencil, issues with forming letters and numbers, inconsistent letter sizing, and poor spacing between words. Some children also experience discomfort or fatigue while writing and may avoid writing tasks altogether. 

Poor fine motor skills, a lack of hand-eye coordination, visual perceptual difficulties, or underlying developmental conditions, such as dyslexia or ADHD, can all play a part in a child having handwriting difficulties. 

If your child is experiencing handwriting challenges, occupational therapy can be beneficial for improving their skills and building confidence in their abilities.

3. Sensory processing issues

Sensory processing issues are fairly common in children with neurodevelopmental conditions, and they can present in several different ways. Some children may be over-responsive to sensory input and may avoid certain textures, sounds, touch or movements. Others may be under-responsive and seek out sensory input by regularly touching objects or people. 

Additionally, sensory processing issues also mean children may have difficulty integrating sensory information, leading to poor coordination and balance, and problems with fine motor skills. 

Sensory processing issues can impact a child’s daily activities, including eating, dressing, and participating in social situations. Occupational therapy can help your child learn how to regulate their responses to sensory input, develop coping strategies and improve their overall ability to engage in daily activities.

4. Self-regulation problems 

Self-regulation refers to emotional and behavioural control. Some children struggle to manage their emotions and have frequent outbursts, while others become easily overwhelmed and shut down. In addition, some children with self-regulation problems have difficulty with attention and focus, leading to impulsivity and getting distracted easily. 

Self-regulation issues can impact a child’s ability to participate in daily activities, including learning and socialising. Occupational therapy can help your child learn how to recognise and manage their emotions, develop coping strategies and improve their ability to focus and engage in activities. It can also support the development of executive functioning skills, like planning and organisation, which are critical for self-regulation and day-to-day life.

5. Social interaction issues

There are lots of things that make social interaction difficult for children, and lots of ways issues can present themselves, too. For example, some children struggle with initiating or maintaining social relationships and have trouble making friends. Others may have difficulty understanding social cues, such as body language and tone of voice, leading to misinterpretation or social isolation due to incorrect social responses. Social interaction issues can impact your child’s emotional wellbeing and ability to participate in daily activities. 

As a parent, seeing your child struggle socially or become isolated can be incredibly difficult. However, there are a number of strategies that can help improve social skills, including occupational therapy. 

Occupational therapy can support the development of social skills, including communication, emotional regulation and perspective-taking, which can help your child engage in positive social interactions and build friendships. 

Children’s Occupational Therapy at Dementech Neurosciences

At Dementech Neurosciences, we have a team of leading paediatric occupational therapists that can help your child to develop their occupation skills. We provide same-day appointments where possible, as well as diagnostic testing if necessary. We also offer support to parents and bespoke treatment plans for every child. Speak to us to learn more about paediatric occupational therapy at Dementech.

Frequently Asked Questions About Our Paediatric Occupational Therapy Service

How long is a paediatric occupational therapy assessment?

The length of a paediatric occupational therapy assessment can vary depending on the needs of your child, but generally speaking, an assessment can take anywhere from one to two hours to complete. A further assessment may be required if the cause of the issues isn’t abundantly clear.

What’s involved in an assessment?

A paediatric occupational therapy assessment is generally a collaborative process between children, parents, occupational therapists, and anyone else involved in the care of your child. 

Broadly speaking, the session will involve gathering information about your child’s medical history, developmental history and current skills and abilities. The occupational therapist may use a variety of standardised tests and clinical observations to assess your child’s motor skills, sensory processing, self-regulation and social interactions. The assessment may also include consultation with other healthcare professionals or caregivers involved in the child’s care, like teachers or a specialist they regularly see if they’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition. 

The goal of an assessment is to develop a comprehensive understanding of your  child’s strengths and things they struggle with, and to develop a plan for intervention and support that works for everyone involved.

What age is paediatric occupational therapy for?

Paediatric occupational therapy is for children from birth through adolescence, typically up to 18 years of age.