In the early intervention world, occupational therapists serve children by providing the services they need to support educational skills like handwriting, self-care activities like putting on and taking off their backpacks, and emotional regulation skills like learning to remain calm. Occupational therapists are truly like Swiss Army Knives in that we have a diverse range of skills, and evidence-based research to support our clients, no matter how young, old, small, or tall. In early intervention, you might find an occupational therapist working with your child in a one-on-one setting doing hand over hand to help a child grasp their writing utensil, helping to support the handwriting skills they need to succeed. Outside of the typical educational activities that come to mind like reading and writing, occupational therapists can even help your child gain independence at lunchtime.
During lunchtime, you might find the same occupational therapist working with another child supporting their ability to eat their lunch as independently as possible by introducing special equipment like adaptive utensils with curved handles, or plates with bumper guards on them to minimize spillage. You might be asking yourself, what does this have to do with school though? Well, lunchtime is part of the school day, and it is important for children to be as independent as possible, not only to boost their self-confidence but also to prepare them for the increased independence expected of them when they go to school and also decrease caregiver burden at home. Truly though, a child’s main occupation (or a thing that takes up their time and brings them meaning and joy), is play.
Play can become such an undervalued and neglected part of a child’s life sometimes. It’s tempting to place most, if not all, of the focus on a child’s education, but truly, the biggest part of a child’s day should be play! Play is valuable in that it not only teaches social skills, but can also strengthen a child’s body, provide opportunities for emotional growth like learning to self regulate when we don’t get our way, and finally, a chance for kids to have fun while developing both fine and gross motor skills. As occupational therapists, we strive to find creative and innovative ways to incorporate the development of fine and gross motor skills, as well as emotional development, into therapy sessions. For example, just this week at iCanDream, the Little Dreamers participated in a tie-dye t-shirt occupational therapy session where they developed their hand skills by twisting and folding patterns into their shirts, stretching open the rubber bands to tie them off, using different hand grasps to open the tie-dye bottles, and even practiced waiting their turn!
At first glance, an occupational therapy session might just look like playtime to a passerby; in reality, Occupational Therapists are highly skilled at incorporating a child’s needs into the therapy session while making it seem just like fun and play. That’s really what an ideal occupational therapy session should feel like to a child, play!