She offers great suggestions - including making sure one of your biggest jobs as a mom is playing with your kids! I can do that! Love it!
Great tips for all parents and children.
Images shared from Valerie Grondin
1. How long have you been an Occupational Therapist (OT)? What made you want to do this job?
I have been an OT for 7 years. I went to the University of New England and graduated in 2008 with my Masters in Occupational Therapy. I knew I wanted to be an OT from around 11 years old. My younger sister is special needs and has mild mental retardation and a speech delay. When she was younger I use to go to some of her therapy sessions and watched her play on the balance board, use shaving cream on a mirror, and play in a ball pool and I thought “I wanna play when I get older”. I did a career day interview in 5th grade with my sister’s OT at the UNE community OT clinic and when it was time for me to do my fieldwork everything came full circle and that same therapist was one of my supervisors. I began working at Goodall Hospital in 2008 and still work there today, however we are now called Southern Maine Healthcare. I treat in the outpatient clinic and see patients of all ages. On average I have 7 kids on caseload and see them 1 x week.
2. What is OT? Can you explain it for the average mom who may not be familiar with it?
An occupation is any task or activity that brings meaning and purpose to an individual’s life. In occupational therapy we work with people of all ages on “skills for the job of living”. A child’s occupation is play. Through play children not only meet their physical developmental milestones but also their social and emotional milestones too. In general an OT helps a child to be successful in his/ her environment.
3. What symptoms or signs in a child's development, behavior, etc. might a mom notice that would signify a child needing some OT support? When is it time to seek out professional help?
A child may need OT if they are not meeting their developmental milestones within a timely manner, have difficulties with attention, difficulties getting along with others, avoiding/seeking sensory stimuli, or have difficulty processing sensory stimuli. The child’s physician or teacher may also notice something that is different than other children and refer them for services, remember different is not always a bad thing.
4. What types of things does an OT work with children on?
Occupational therapists work with children in the NICU all the way into adulthood and beyond. In those first few days of life a newborn is being exposed to lights, sounds, and temperatures they have never had to process before. In the NICU setting, an OT will work with the child, family, and medical team to limit and regulate the amount of external stimuli the newborn is exposed to in order to avoid overloading the nervous system and causing distress. As the newborn enters the infant stages of life we as OTs begin looking at reflexes and developmental milestones. An infant may see an OT to assist with tummy time, integration of reflexes (for example startling when placed on back), crossing midline, or bringing their hands and feet to mouth, but ultimately helping the child to play.
Play is the tool we use to help children develop. As babies grow into toddlers we continue to look at their developmental milestones with gross motor (jumping, walking, running) and fine motor (grasping toys, coloring, using utensils). At the toddler age we also start to see some sensory processing concerns and social thinking skills.
As a child prepares for school and enters school the OT role shifts a bit more to focus on the skllls the child will need to be successful at school. Some of these skills include attention, handwriting, social skills, and flexibility of thoughts. As the child continues to grow the OT role shifts to address whatever is meaningful and purposeful to that child/teen in order to help them build confidence and foster independence.
Sensory concerns may present in a variety of ways: avoiding wearing certain clothes, avoidance of eating certain food textures, seeking movement, avoiding movement, hating haircuts, throwing tantrums, disliking loud sounds. We all have something we may be sensitive to, for example the tag on the shirt or the really loud ticking of the clock in the office, but our adult bodies have found ways to process the itchy tag and annoying clock and it doesn’t typically prevent us from moving forward in our day. Kids on the other hand may not know what it is that is sending them into a fight or flight mode and may require some assistance from an OT and their parents for help.
6. What are fine motor skills? What are gross motor skills? How can moms help their children develop these skills from an early age?
Fine motor skills are essentially skills that require the use of the hands. This includes grasping, pinching, handwriting, using utensils as mealtime, fastening buttons or zippers. Gross motor skills include the larger body parts and muscles for things like hopping, skipping, walking, running, jumping, balance, and coordination. Object manipulation is a child’s ability to do things like catching and throwing. Children also have visual perceptual skills which allow a child to tell the difference between shapes, develop depth perception, and it eventually develops into skills needed for reading, writing, math, and other academic areas.
Moms can help their child develop through PLAY. Playing with your child is the best therapy. Play outside, inside, get dirty, try different foods, play BIG, play little… play play play!
7. What are some common questions you get from parents, and can you answer those for us?
I don’t necessarily feel there are common questions as each child is different, but I will say that it is very important for a parent to ask questions at school and be proactive if they feel their child is in need of services. Most of the questions I receive pertain to insurance coverage, not qualifying for school based services, or how to get adaptive equipment for their child.
The American Occupational Therapy Association has some great resources for parents and providers www.aota.com I also like to use some of the social thinking programs which can be found at www.socialthinking.com.
9. What is your favorite part about being an OT?
My favorite thing about being an OT is helping to empower parents with tools to help their children to grow and to see the wonderful gains children make both through normal development and with the help of OT services.
One thing that I find is challenging for parents of children with OT needs is support. Parents need support from family and friends, physicians, and teachers.
The other area is patience. It is hard raising a child who may be a little different from “the norm”, every day may be a struggle just to get out the door in the morning, so don’t forget to take time for you to relax and regroup.
11. What are your top 3 tips for helping kids with sensory concerns or other OT needs?
The top 3 suggestions I have for parents with sensory kids is to:
1. Plan ahead- let your child know the plan of the day (to the best of your knowledge)
2. Don’t force a child to do something they may be uncomfortable with (waterslides, big swings, rides at parks)
3. Keep track of things your child likes and dislikes to help provide them with positive experiences.
A sensory diet provides a child with opportunities to regulate his/her nervous system. The younger a child is the more assistance they may need from a parent or teacher. Diets are made up of activities or exercises that either calm or alert the body in order to bring the body back to a “just right” state. Keeping track of things that calm the child or excite the child is crucial to the development of an effective sensory diet. That being said it's important to understand it is always changing and no two children are the same, so being flexible with the diets and individualizing them to the child is important.
Occupational therapy is great for kids of all ages and abilities. There’s always something fun to do in OT!