Occupational therapy is a holistic therapy approach that helps children master the skills needed for everyday living – from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep, and within all environments, including home, school and community.  At FOCUS in Fort Myers, our pediatric occupational therapists work patiently to help children reach important developmental milestones. Some of the ways OT can help your child:

  • Increases their chance for independence
  • Improves their ability to play and learn
  • Boosts their self-esteem and confidence
  • Helps them develop a workable routine
  • Gives them a sense of accomplishment
  • Improves their overall quality of life

Occupational therapy accomplishes all this specifically by helping to improve these vital skills:

  • Motor skills (the use of muscles and movement – big and small)
  • Bilateral integration (ability to use both sides of the body simultaneously and independently)
  • Social skills (effectively interacting and communicating with and responding to others)
  • Cognitive skills (the core skills needed to think, remember, reason, pay attention and learn)
  • Sensory processing skills (regulating the way the nervous systems processes senses and responds with appropriate motor and behavioral responses)
  • Visual perceptual skills (the ability to organize and interpret information that is seen and give it meaning)
  • Communication skills (the ability to convey information to another effectively and efficiently)
  • Play (the universal language of childhood, the critical way children understand one another and make sense of the world around them)
  • Self regulation and coping skills (help with managing emotions, critical to developing resilience, a sense of self and nurturing mental health and well-being)

We help “our kids” reach these objectives at a pace that considers their individual abilities. It’s about giving them the tools necessary to become independent and live the fullest life possible.

There are benefits for parents too! Some of those include:

  • Reducing demand.
  • Lowering stress.
  • Providing a sense of security.
  • Improving quality of life.
  • Having a caring and experienced team of professionals at your disposal to collaboratively develop solutions to daily struggles/ problems.
  • Offering the opportunity and satisfaction of watching your child improve and become independent.

Understanding Occupational Therapy

Generally speaking, occupational therapy is a broad discipline encompassing everything a person would need to be functional and independent in daily life.

For a child, “occupations” include things like:

  • Eating
  • Getting dressed
  • Bathing/ toileting/ self-care
  • Playing
  • Learning/ going to school
  • Handwriting
  • Sleeping and resting
  • Interacting with family and friends
  • Planning, organizing and sequencing ideas and movement
  • Regulating their emotions and impulses

Most of us don’t give much thought to these activities until struggles arise. Occupational therapy supports children of all ages and considers what is developmentally appropriate for each child.

At FOCUS, our occupational therapy is play-based, meaning we engage children in fun, creative activities to encourage participation and learning. Some of the tools we use to achieve these goals are:

  • Everyday household items (i.e., sponges, clothes pins, straws, tweezers, etc.)
  • Books
  • Games and toys that assist with cognitive and motor development
  • Splints
  • Writing utensils
  • Adaptive scissors
  • Toileting and bath aids
  • Tablets
  • Computer software
  • Specialized feeding utensils

“The ultimate goal in therapy is for children to be able to grow up to be anything they want to be or do anything they want to do,” FOCUS owner Jennifer Voltz said. “We don’t want anything holding them back in life.”

Does My Child Need Occupational Therapy?

While parents often notice a speech delay or physical impairment early in a child’s development, the need for occupational therapy isn’t always obvious.

To determine whether occupational therapy services are necessary for your child, we offer free screenings. If we believe your child would benefit from therapy, we will schedule a more intensive evaluation, usually with a physician referral. This helps us gather information about your child’s unique challenges and from there, develop individualized goals.

Some areas we might red flag include:

  • Developmental delays. When a child isn’t reaching certain developmental milestones such as integrating basic reflexes, crawling, walking or sitting, not learning at a level that is age-appropriate and not developing appropriate play and social skills, that’s a concern.
  • Fine motor skills. We see this in areas where a child might have difficulty manipulating puzzles or toys, grasping a pencil, using feeding utensils, developing proper handwriting, using scissors or with clothing fasteners such as shoelaces/ buttons/ zippers.
  • Gross motor skills. These would be things like poor balance, difficulty going up and down stairs, seemingly clumsy or uncoordinated, poor ball skills or trouble integrating use of both sides of the body.
  • Bilateral integration and crossing midline. A lack of communication from each side of the brain limits the body’s ability to work as a cohesive unit. Difficulty with bringing hands together for a task, limited trunk rotation and lack of or limited reaching across the body are signs of difficulty in this area. This skill is important to establish handedness. If a child does not cross midline with a dominant hand, both hands will develop simultaneously to produce mediocre skills bilaterally, versus strong fine motor skills on the dominant side.
  • Visual perceputal processing. These would include things like difficulty making eye contact, visual tracking, discriminating differences between two or more items or shapes, making sense of things that are only partly visible, visual memory and sequential memory in order to memorize a phone number or spell/ read words,  finding an object among other objects, recognizing letters/ numbers, copying letters or shapes or with the concept of left and right.
  • Oral motor/ Oral sensory. What we would look for here would be issues like difficulty or inability to use a cup at the age-appropriate time, chewing food at the front rather than with molars, inability or difficulty to control tongue movement or relocate food particles, excessive drooling/ open mouth posture, trouble drinking from a straw or blowing bubbles,  excessive mouthing of toys beyond a time that is age-appropriate and excessively picky eating.
  • Sensory processing. Here, we’re looking to see if a child is able to process, organize and appropriately respond to movement, touch, sights and sound as well as understand where their own body is in a space in relation to others, objects, etc. A child may be overly-sensitive or have heightened reactivity to movement, touch or sound. In other cases, they may be under-responsive to certain senses. A child with a sensory processing issue may be easily distracted, crave excessive movement/ pressure, present with low arousal and unable to alert himself, be bothered by certain textures (including clothing, baths, foods, etc.), be unable to calm himself when upset or have trouble coping with change.
  • Social interaction. A child who struggles to engage socially with family or peers, adapt to new environments, has delayed language skills, is overly-focused on a single subject or is not doing well coping in school may need help with social interaction skills.
  • Learning challenges. A child who is unable to concentrate, requires increased processing time/ repeated directions, has difficulty understanding/ responding to mainstream teaching styles,  has poor impulse control or struggles to follow instructions or keep up at school may have a learning challenge that could require intervention.
  • Play skills. A child who struggles to initiate play on his own, wanders without purposeful play, moves quickly from one thing to the next, doesn’t engage with peers or siblings, plays with toys repetitively or in ways not age appropriate may need further assistance.
  • Self regulation. A child’s ability to regulate his emotions and impulses is a vital skill needed across all environments. Without self-regulation, learning all other skills becomes harder. A child who demonstrates difficulty coping with disappointment, throws tantrums when told, “No,” has difficulty sharing or taking turns becomes distressed or anxious with change/ transitions, avoids or misses opportunities for self advocacy/ asking for help, etc. would benefit from being taught strategies and practicing those strategies in a safe, consistent place until mastered.

Child development exists on a continuum, but occupational therapy can help those with delays, disorders, injuries or isolated challenges in a number of ways.

Some examples of ways occupational therapy helps include:

  • Helping a child who uses a wheelchair learn to play with his or her peers.
  • Assisting a child with cognitive impairment learn how to use tools like crayons or toys.
  • Working with a child with autism to overcome sensory aversions or social difficulties.
  • Assisting a child with concentration troubles learn how to succeed in school.
  • Helping a child with a traumatic brain injury learn how to once again conquer basic tasks, like teeth-brushing, dressing or writing.
  • Assisting a child with low vision to safely navigate his environment and discriminate between various items.
  • Helping a child with extreme sensory aversions to grow his variety of nutritional foods while learning to enjoy mealtime.
  • Teaching alternative strategies to a child with limited motor control and/or strength of one or more of his extremities in order to open containers, prepare a snack or stabilize a plate while eating.

Who Are The Occupational Therapists?

The occupational therapists at FOCUS are skilled professionals trained to pair evidence-based scientific research with creative, fun strategies to develop motivating and effective intervention plans that have been proven to help children achieve set goals.

Occupational therapists earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy, where they will study patient care, anatomy/physiology /neurodevelopment, psychosocial aspects, statistics, ethics, professional development, mental health, social/ medical conditions and assistive technology. Completion of multiple supervised clinical fieldwork rotations is also required. After graduation, a nationally-board certified exam must be passed. Then in order to practice in the state of Florida, occupational therapists must become certified and licensed.

All occupational therapy providers in Southwest Florida will meet these basic requirements. The difference at FOCUS is our work is our passion. Our clients excel because we invest in building relationships and trust with each child and every family.

Our experience has been therapy results are maximized when we work closely with families on the individualized intervention plan. We take the time after every session to discuss new triumphs and ongoing challenges, as well as to explain how strategies can be carried over at home and in everyday life. Children tend to have the best outcomes when parents are actively involved.

We believe YOU are the best “occupational therapist” your child will ever have. We are committed to providing you with the resources and education needed to help your child succeed.