The JumpTherapy Blog:
Sensory Processing, Motor and Social Skills Resources
for Parents of Special Needs Children
The Occupational Therapist: Your Very Own Private Detective
A Parent’s Guide to What OT Is and How it Can Help Your Child
Part 2 of 2: The Therapy Process
How does the occupational therapy process work?
At the conclusion of the evaluation, the therapist made targeted recommendations about therapy and strategies for your child. Now, during the therapy phase, s/he will use clinical reasoning to figure out exactly what works best. Children process information in different ways, so they need to be taught in different ways that suit their individual sensory processing needs. The therapist builds a program customized to enhance your child’s existing skills, while learning new skills and behaviors and how to apply the old and the new skills to additional situations.
Can I help in the therapy process?
Definitely! The therapist involves parents, helping you recognize how your child perceives sensation, and how that perception affects your child’s attention, social and emotional abilities, motor skills and learning. Once you understand that, you are able to work with the therapist to develop the best methods for engaging your children in therapeutic activities, social interactions, and daily routines. The OT will help you acquire skills to keep in your backpack of strategies so you can give your child what s/he needs at any particular moment to achieve goals, develop life skills, and function independently.
Occupational therapy: a sensory integration approach
Sensory integration therapy follows your child’s lead. The occupational therapist designs and uses activities that supply sensory input and experiences that gently challenge your child’s ability to respond appropriately. When your child engages in activities that provide the intensity, duration, and quality of sensation his/her particular central nervous system requires, s/he becomes more efficient at organizing and integrating sensory information, and adaptive behaviors follow naturally.
Will therapy help my child’s interoceptive skills too?
Yes. An OT trained in sensory processing can indeed improve your child’s ability to perceive and understand his/her body’s internal messages. The therapist develops and implements strategies directed at a child’s particular interoception subtype (is the child hypo-responsive? hyper-responsive?). Therapy focuses on increasing the child’s ability to notice internal signals, to give the correct meaning to these sensations, and to respond appropriately to them.
OT can help any age child or adult with SPD
– Infants and toddlers:
Occupational therapists identify sensory and motor difficulties and provide interventions to facilitate effective self-regulation (wake–sleep cycles, alertness level, self-soothing), motor development, and adaptive behavior.
Making therapy fun for your child
During OT sessions, the therapist guides your child through enjoyable activities that are subtly structured so the child is constantly challenged, but always successful. The focus is on play to make change happen; play is the vehicle for learning to share, take turns, use language, increase cognitive capacity, etc., all while strengthening physical motor skills and coordination.
Occupational therapists use your child’s existing strengths and supports in a fun environment to build on what s/he needs to learn to become more independent. They work with parents to build an individualized backpack of personal strategies that help you navigate the most difficult times of the day, and recommend school accommodations to enable your child to succeed there as well. Remember, the sooner your child begins therapy to address his/her sensory issues, the better the outcome. That’s why it’s so important to start the occupational therapy process as soon as you can after becoming aware that a problem exists.
Every child is different, thus every child’s set of behavioral responses is different. There is no one single therapeutic approach that will work for every SPD child. In an upcoming post, we will discuss how different strategies will work for different children, and why.
All the best,
Miriam Skydell MS, OTR/L is a pediatric OT with 30 years experience and a strong commitment to empowering every child and every family with the skills, confidence and emotional stability necessary for a meaningful, independent life. In addition to her Masters degree from NYU (1986) and membership in the AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association), Miriam is a licensed Interactive Metronome®, HWT (Handwriting Without Tears®), and TLP (The Listening Program®) provider.
Miriam performs preschool screenings, contracts experienced OTs, PTs and STs to schools, helped implement the HWT curriculum, and lectures extensively for parent and support groups and at teacher conferences for public and private schools throughout New Jersey. Through her private practice in Fair Lawn, Miriam Skydell and Associates, established in 1995, Miriam has helped countless children with a wide range of diagnoses improve functional living skills, manage the impact of sensory processing dysfunction, and meet their individual potentials.