What is occupational therapy?
A question I get ask a lot of times when I tell people I am an occupational therapist is “What is that?”
Chances are, if you don’t have a child with special needs or have no history of yourself or you loved ones experience challenges with doing things they want or need to do in everyday life, then you may not have encountered an occupational therapist.
Occupational therapy focuses on function. As an occupational therapist, my job is to help people across the lifespan gain, regain, or retain skills needed to engage in activities at home, school, work, and the community.
How does occupational therapy help children with sensory difficulties?
Occupational therapy plays a key role in children with sensory sensitivities. We are considered experts in regulation. If a child is demonstrating different behaviors such as:
Sudden aggressive outbursts
Aversion to different textures or tastes (may be identified as a picky eater)
Extreme dislike of hands or face being messy
Blinks, squints or rubs eyes frequently
Resists different grooming activities such as hair cuts or nail trimmings
Intolerance of certain types of clothings
“0 fo 100” reactions with difficulty to calm
Can’t sit still
If your child is experiencing any of these, there may be underlying sensory issues that an occupational therapist can support with.
An occupational therapist will perform an assessment looking at what types of sensory input the child is seeking, as well as what types they are avoiding. Often times the child is seeking some areas while avoiding others.
The occupational therapist will then create a plan called a “sensory diet” to provide regular sensory input, usually every 1-3 hours to keep the child in a more regulated state. The occupational therapist will then teach parents or caregivers the different strategies/activities to fulfill the input the child is seeking.
From there, it is a matter of trial and error to find which specific activities that target the different senses are most beneficial to the child and building a “toolbox” of strategies the child and the parent can use to keep them in a calm and regulated state.