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Occupational Therapy Basics, Louis Center for children with special needs Seremban, N.S. Malaysia

Occupational Therapy Basics


Occupational therapy treatment focuses on helping people achieve independence in all areas of their lives. OT can help kids with various needs improve their cognitive, physical, and motor skills and enhance their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.

Some people may think that occupational therapy is only for adults; kids, after all, do not have occupations. But a child's main job is playing and learning, and occupational therapists can evaluate kids' skills for playing, school performance, and daily activities and compare them with what is developmentally appropriate for that age group.

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), in addition to dealing with an someone's physical well-being, OT practitioners address psychological, social, and environmental factors that can affect functioning in different ways. This approach makes OT a vital part of health care for some kids.

Kids Who Might Need Occupational Therapy

According to the AOTA, kids with these medical problems might benefit from OT:
• birth injuries or birth defects
• sensory processing disorders
• traumatic injuries (brain or spinal cord)
• learning problems
• autism/pervasive developmental disorders
• juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
• mental health or behavioral problems
• broken bones or other orthopedic injuries
• developmental delays
• post-surgical conditions
• burns
• spina bifida
• traumatic amputations
• cancer
• severe hand injuries
• multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other chronic illnesses

Occupational therapists might:

• help kids work on fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting skills
• address hand-eye coordination to improve kids' play skills (hitting a target, batting a ball, copying from a blackboard, etc.)
• help kids with severe developmental delays learn basic tasks (such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and feeding themselves)
• help kids with behavioral disorders learn anger-management techniques (i.e., instead of hitting others or acting out, using positive ways to deal with anger, such as writing about feelings or participating in a physical activity)
• teach kids with physical disabilities the coordination skills needed to feed themselves, use a computer, or increase the speed and legibility of their handwriting
• evaluate a child's need for specialized equipment, such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, or communication aids
• work with kids who have sensory and attentional issues to improve focus and social skills.

How Physical Therapy and OT Differ

Although both physical and occupational therapy help improve kids' quality of life, there are differences. Physical therapy (PT) deals with pain, strength, joint range of motion, endurance, and gross motor functioning, whereas OT deals more with fine motor skills, visual-perceptual skills, cognitive skills, and sensory-processing deficits.

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Autism

People with autism can benefit from occupational therapy, both at home and at school. Autism is a complex developmental disorder. A person who has autism often has trouble communicating and interacting with other people. The person’s interests, activities, and play skills may be very limited.
What’s the role of occupational therapy (OT) in treating autism?

Occupational therapists study human growth and development. They are experts in social, emotional, and physiological effects of illness and injury. This knowledge helps them promote skills for independent living in people with autism.

Occupational therapists work as part of a team that includes parents, teachers, and other professionals. They help set specific goals for the person with autism. These goals often involve social interaction, behavior, and classroom performance.

Occupational therapists can help in two main ways: with evaluation and therapy.

How is occupational therapy useful for evaluation with autism?

The therapist observes children to see if they can do tasks they are expected to do at their ages. These might relate to certain self-help skills, such as getting dressed. Or they might involve knowing how to play a game. Sometimes, it helps to videotape a child during the normal course of the day. This will help the occupational therapist better assess what is needed for care. With the tape, the therapist might learn about the child’s reactions to the environment.

For example the therapist might note any of the following:

• attention span and stamina
• transition to new activities
• play skills
• need for personal space
• responses to touch or other types of stimuli
• motor skills such as posture, balance, or manipulation of small objects
• aggression or other types of behaviors
• interactions between the child and caregivers

How does occupational therapy help a person with autism?

Once an occupational therapist has gathered information, he or she can develop a program for your child. There is no single ideal treatment program. But early, structured, individualized care has been shown to work best.

Occupational therapy may combine a variety of strategies. These can help your child respond better to his or her environment. These OT strategies include:
• physical activities, such as stringing beads or doing puzzles, to help a child develop coordination and body awareness
• play activities to help with interaction and communication
• developmental activities, such as brushing teeth and combing hair
• adaptive strategies, including coping with transitions

What are the benefits of occupational therapy for autism?

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve his or her quality of life. This includes life at home and at school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills. That way, people with autism can be as independent as possible.

These are some of the skills occupational therapy will foster:

• daily living skills, such as toilet training, dressing, brushing teeth, and other grooming skills
• fine motor skills required for holding objects while handwriting or cutting with scissors
• gross motor skills used for walking or riding a bike
• sitting, posture, or perceptual skills, such as telling the differences between colors, shapes, and sizes
• visual skills for reading and writing
• play, coping, self-help, problem solving, communication, and social skills

By working on these skills during occupational therapy, a child with autism may also do the following:
• develop peer and adult relationships
• learn how to focus on tasks
• learn how to delay gratification
• express feelings in more appropriate ways
• engage in play with peers
• learn how to self-regulate

What is sensory integration therapy?

You may have heard a lot about sensory integration therapy. That’s because some researchers estimate that eight out of 10 children with autism have problems processing sensory input. For example, they can’t filter out background noise. Other signs of processing issues include:
• problems with balance
• problems with body position in space
• problems with sensitivity to touch such as the feel of certain types of clothing like the seams in socks.

With autism, social, behavioral, or attention problems can be partly a result of these sensory challenges.

Although more research is needed, OT can help with sensory integration and some of the related behavioral problems. Research suggests sensory integration therapy is less helpful in terms of improving academic performance.

Examples of sensory integration therapy include:

• being brushed or deeply touched and massaged
• compressing elbows and knees
• swinging
• spinning on a scooter
• wearing a weighted vest

  Louis Center Seremban, N.S. Malaysia Phone 06 631 6971


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Last modified: 12/09/11