The JumpTherapy Blog:
Sensory Processing, Motor and Social Skills Resources
for Parents of Special Needs Children
The OT as Private Investigator:
A Guide to What Occupational Therapy Is and How it Can Help Your Child
Part 1 of 2: Understanding OT
The clues to success
Occupational therapy (OT) helps children with disabilities increase their independence. The occupational therapist plays the role of “sensory investigator,” working with your SPD child and you to create individualized therapy plans and strategies for success to keep in your ‘backpack.’
My child is too young to have an occupation; what would occupational therapy do for him?
OT is interactive, child-guided therapy. The therapist uses multi-sensory activities — that is, activities that incorporate movement, touch, sight, sound and muscle input — to give your child the experiences he/she needs to master the occupations, or demands, of everyday life.
What is the occupational therapist investigating?
As a sensory investigator, the therapist begins by observing your child in order to figure out more about what’s happening with his/her sensory-based needs. The therapist identifies the sensory and environmental obstacles that limit your child’s ability to participate successfully in everyday activities.
- Teaching your child sensory and motor strategies to handle sensory processing challenges and participate in everyday life activities and real life social interactions
- Developing daily routines to help keep your child regulated and to increase his/her self-awareness and adaptive response to sensory input
- Helping the entire family learn how to modify the environment and potentially stressful situations in order to build on your child’s individual strengths and accommodate his/her difficulties
- Recommending adaptive equipment and teaching your child how to use it effectively
- Working with other medical professionals, such as physicians, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, etc., to determine the need for specialized evaluation and intervention
Can an occupational therapist help my child develop specific skills?
Yes! The therapist helps facilitate the following skills:
- Fine motor coordination (see explanation below)
- Gross motor coordination (see explanation below)
- Independence with daily living/self-care appropriate to your child’s age
- Sensory processing
- Visual perceptual
- Eye-hand coordination
What does the evaluation process consist of?
To determine if your child has Sensory Processing Disorder and could benefit from therapy, a qualified occupational or physical therapist will use a sensory history provided by other medical professionals and/or by parents; standardized testing; and his or her own clinical observations of your child’s posture, balance, coordination, eye movements, and responses to sensory stimulation.
qualified occupational or physical therapist can perform an evaluation using a sensory history, standardized testing and clinical observations.
I can’t afford an evaluation, let alone therapy!
Money will not be an issue. Whether your child is attending or will attend public or private school, your child from birth up to the age of 21 is covered under the “Child Find” mandate, which is included in the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” Child Find requires all school districts to (find and) evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. If your child is under three years, you will want to contact the “Early Intervention” program. Both Child Find and Early Intervention are run by your school district.
Get your child evaluated sooner rather than later
Occupational therapy services are available in schools, hospitals, clinics and other facilities, public and private therapists and programs, Head Start programs, community centers, and through referral from a physician. Decide which is the best place for your child and family. The earlier the child receives intervention, treatment, and therapy, the better the outcome. Trust yourself — if you think there’s a problem, take your child for an evaluation as soon as you can. Be sure to bring your checklist/s, journals, notes, etc. because the more information you can provide, the more accurate the evaluation will be.
In the next post, we will finish discussing the role of the occupational therapist and the therapy program in helping your child fully integrate into his or her environment.
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.