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Occupational Therapists in Sydney’s northern beaches explain how OT helps children to overcome sensory processing issues.
Sensory processing difficulties can manifest themselves in a wide variety of behaviours and other challenges in children.
If you’re not sure if your child’s challenges are caused by sensory processing difficulties, you might like to read ‘10 ways to work out if your child has sensory processing problems’ here
Why occupational therapy?
Many of the children who come to us have been referred by doctors, teachers and early childhood educators, but sometimes mums and dads aren’t quite sure what occupational therapy is all about.
In our initial discussions with families, we come across many parents who don’t quite understand how a professional who traditionally helps children with handwriting can also help a child who may be having behaviour, attention, emotional and development difficulties.
What does an OT do?
Firstly, it might help you to understand what our role is as Occupational Therapists.
‘Occupation’ refers to the activities that occupy the time within our day.
Occupational Therapists help people to function in the day to day activities that occupy their time should something get in the way, such as an injury or a disability.
A child’s primary occupation is play, because play helps children to socialise and learn about the world.
Play in young children helps to develop and foster an ability to focus and also shift attention, build muscles to support stability.
Play also fosters fine motor skills, the ability to adapt to changes in the environment and routine, and solve physical, emotional or social problems that may arise.
Many of the children who come to us with features of sensory processing issues demonstrate difficulties with the activities they are required to perform throughout their day.
They may shy away from interactions with other children or struggle to sit still for any length of time.
Learning might be difficult, or they might have large meltdowns over problems that appear to be small and insignificant to us.
This is where an Occupational Therapist can help.
The role of OT in supporting children’s behaviour
Occupational Therapists can help to identify the sensory, social and emotional difficulties that your child faces.
We can also help to locate the triggers that result in a deterioration in behaviour and attention.
One of our most important roles is helping you as a parent to identify these triggers as well.
We empower parents to hone their ability to read their child’s cues and respond right then and there so that the child’s ability to cope in the difficult environment is supported.
More importantly, we facilitate parents’ understanding and learning with so that they know how to set their child up before the difficult times so their child is more regulated) and the attention, behaviour and learning issues either decrease or cease altogether.
(If you need more information about ‘regulation’, click here ….)
What happens at occupational therapy?
In occupational therapy sessions, children are given a safe, accepting place to be themselves.
Opportunities to play, experiment, challenge and engage with the therapist and the child’s parents are given to the child.
Often, these challenges cause problems for the children and children can sometimes lose attention, become upset and may even have a meltdown.
It’s okay for this to happen in a session, because as OTs we need to be able to see the issues that the child is facing from day to day.
Once we know how a child reacts to challenges, we are able to help to regulate the child and support them to solve the emotional difficulty they are experiencing.
This gives parents an opportunity to observe the strategies in use.
Parents are also coached through these issues, giving them experience in calming their children so they are capable of doing it at home and in the community.
Does OT help children with sensory processing difficulties?
Functionally, we often see improvements in attention, behaviour, language and learning, even when we are not specifically working on these things.
This is because when children are more regulated, they are more capable of accessing their higher level skills.
The extent of the improvements depends heavily on the child and the amount of work that is done between sessions.
It’s important to remember that 45 minutes of therapy a week is not necessarily going to result in massive changes at home – that is why we give recommendations to be carried out at home by parents and in the preschool/school environments by a child’s teachers and carers.
We like to have a consistent, open channel of communication between the therapists, carers and educators in order to ensure that the children have the best support and opportunity for progress.
OTs support children’s development
In summary, the role of a paediatric Occupational Therapists is to support the development of a child.
Development cannot be taught – it must be progressed through.
An OT can help you to look at the underlying causes of the behavioural or learning issues that your child is experiencing and then find solutions.
© 2015 Kids First Children’s Services
Occupational Therapy at Kids First
Kids First’s occupational therapists have years of experience and have helped hundreds of children with sensory processing problems.
At our bright and kid-friendly centre in Sydney’s northern beaches, our purpose built sensory gyms give children the benefit of fun and playful occupational therapy sessions.
Find out more about occupational therapy at Kids First here, or call us on (02) 9938 5419 to make an appointment for your child.