Get out and play! By Danielle Larsson, Boundary Community Hospital
Have you ever wondered what an occupational therapist (OT) does? OTs help people be as functional and independent in their life as possible, regardless of age. Most adults utilize occupational therapy for post-surgery rehab for hands, wrists and forearms; upper extremity stroke rehabilitation; or visual perceptual retraining needed due to stroke, head injury, or long-term illness. For children, occupational therapists help them become independent in daily living tasks, address sensory processing difficulties, and more, leading to the development of successful academic skills. Often, children referred to an OT have diagnoses such as ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, behavioral issues, or struggling with academics due to poor visual skills, poor handwriting skills, or poor attention to task.
Dr. Yahtil Huaute at Boundary Community Hospital works with patients of all ages. Dr. Huaute stressed the importance of meeting her patients at their level of abilities. Focusing on treating their symptoms rather than their diagnoses is crucial, because these diagnoses can present differently from person to person.
Any child will benefit from constructive play-based occupational therapy regardless of diagnosis. "In today's culture, it is difficult to allow children to establish their own limits and abilities," said Dr. Huaute. "When you let them find their own limits through play, you let them learn and develop crucial skills, including emotional coping skills." Previous generations had access to a greater variety of play equipment like swings, teeter-totters, and merry-go-rounds that helped stimulate children's proprioceptive (body awareness) and vestibular (balance, movement, spatial awareness) senses. Children of this generation don't have access to such equipment.
There are 10 main benefits of Pediatric OT:
1. Improves gross motor skills - This involves the large muscle groups essential for crawling, walking, jumping, etc.
2. Improves fine motor skills - Coordination of smaller muscles like hands and fingers, which is vital in handwriting.
3. Increases independence in activities of daily living - Routine activities like feeding, dressing and grooming.
4. Addresses sensory processing difficulties - Better receive and respond to the sensory input, whether it be tolerating different types of clothing, decreasing sensory seeking for better regulation, or trying to improve sleep patterns.
5. Increases overall strength and stability - Strength and stability are a few of those foundational skills needed to complete everyday tasks.
6. Enhances play skills - Functional play, taking turns, sharing, understanding social cues, etc.
7. Improves executive functioning skills - Attention, organization, initiation, sequencing and memory to improve academic performance and ability to complete daily routines more independently.
8. Develops emotional coping skills - Research shows a matured sensory system allows for more age-appropriate emotional responses.
9. Provides caregiver education - Pediatric OT will also provide education and home programs to help your child carry over skills learned in therapy to the home.
10. Improves visual processing skills - Ability to organize and interpret visual input and give it meaning, as well as help identify things in a cluttered background.
Vestibular processing is the main area that affects children, along with visual processing difficulties. When a child's vestibular senses function appropriately, it helps them feel balanced and move about their environments. If it is not working correctly, they might feel nauseous or dizzy, lose their balance easily, bump into things more often than others, and display poor posture. Some fun and easy ways to help develop your child's vestibular processing is to play outside! Ride a bike, jump on a trampoline, spin on a swing, create an obstacle course, walk an imaginary tight-rope, play hopscotch, have a dance party, or have a race!
If you think you or your child could benefit from occupational therapy, be sure to ask your primary care provider for a referral to see Dr. Yahtil Huaute at Boundary Community Hospital.