Table of Contents
Have you ever watched an occupational therapist work with a child? If so, you might agree that it almost looks like playtime and there’s no actual “therapy” going on. Believe it or not, pediatric occupational therapy is supposed to look like play.
Foundations of pediatric development place the use of play and leisure at the center of growing. As a result, occupational therapists capitalize on this by using play to provide opportunities for change, growth, and learning.
Your child may visit a pediatric occupational therapist for a variety of reasons. Children who have difficulty with handwriting, dressing, learning, and regulating emotions can receive pediatric therapy services. Children who have decreased motion or poor strength in their arms or hands could also benefit from therapy services.
Depending on your child’s diagnosis, a pediatric occupational therapist will create or implement activities to manage symptoms, teach skills, or improve current abilities. A variety of activities may be part of any given occupational therapy session with your child.
Here are 5 common and effective activities used by occupational therapists that work with pediatric patients.
1) Platform swing
OTs often have children use a swing in the therapy clinic to calm their sensory issues. However, the swing can be incorporated into many parts of therapy. A therapist might ask your child to help push the swing to build arm or leg strength.
The swing may even be a preparatory activity to assist with building stronger visual skills. In this instance, the swing is immediately followed by an activity that requires visual-motor skills, such as a word search.
2) Games with small parts
Many parents with younger children are discouraged from having toys or games with small parts. This is not the case in therapy, especially since your child is under supervision.
Games with small parts, such as levers, buttons, pulleys, ropes, buttons, zippers, and fasteners, are a great way to build fine motor skills.
Fine motor skills are a large part of what occupational therapists address in both children and adults. This includes buttoning shirts, zippering jackets, and using fasteners on pants and other pieces of clothing. Other examples of challenging fine motor skills are using scissors, handling writing utensils, and manipulating spoons, forks, and knives while eating.
It is important for children to learn foundational fine motor skills as they grow in order to continue functioning effectively.
3) Alphabet activities
Learning the alphabet is an important part of childhood development. However, many parents may assume the alphabet is something that is only taught in school.
Occupational therapists often use the basics of the alphabet to improve fine motor skills, visual-motor skills, coordination, strength, and motion when combined with other aspects of a therapy session. Practicing the appropriate use, design, and ordering of letters during therapy is also a great way to stimulate growth in a child with dyslexia or other learning disabilities.
4) The use of one toy
Pediatric occupational therapists will often encourage children to use one toy in a room of many toys. Why? The use of only one toy among many assists children with attentional difficulties such as Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Using one toy is an exceptional way to train children with ADD or ADHD to focus their attention on only one thing for a given period of time. Once adapted, the skill acquisition will switch to focusing on one activity (as opposed to an object) for a prolonged period of time. Overall, the approach of singular focus helps a child function better in a variety of settings where activity tolerance is required, such as school or early work experiences.
Focusing on one object or activity at a time is not only used with children with diagnosed attentional disorders. In fact, it can be used to build important skills such as emotional regulation, impulse control, development of preference, and sensory tolerance.
5) Tables with shaving cream
This sounds like a strange and messy activity, right? The reality is the use of shaving cream during therapy assists children with tolerance to different textures.
Children with a sensory processing disorder and other sensory issues can really benefit from this activity. Furthermore, it’s a very popular activity for children who simply want an added layer of fun to their therapy session.
Therapists often incorporate the use of versatile substances into visual activities, such as having children form letters in a pile of shaving cream. They also have children find objects in the shaving cream to assist with building fine motor skills. The list goes on and on, as this is an activity that has multiple therapeutic purposes.
Occupational therapy with children is often a lot of fun and really allows them to build skills and foster growth.
As you may have noticed, these activities can be used with children who have a range of diagnoses and presenting issues. The beauty of occupational therapy and most other therapeutic rehabilitation is the ability of the therapist to modify and adapt activities to fit the needs of any child.
No, a therapist will not use the same activities and games with every child. However, one activity may have a variety of components that benefit many of your child’s needs at once.
There is critical clinical judgment and scientific reasoning behind the activities used during an occupational therapy session. As a result, a therapist must develop an individualized treatment plan for each child they treat.
If you ever have questions regarding what an occupational therapist is doing during a therapy session with your child, ask them. A great occupational therapist will be happy to address any concerns and walk you through the treatment plan they have developed for your child.
- American Occupational Therapy Association. (2018) Children & Youth. Retrieved from https://www.aota.org/Practice/Children-Youth.aspx.