“Occupational Therapy for Babies? What Does That Look Like?”
At FOCUS Therapy, we heavily gear many of our occupational therapy efforts toward early intervention. That means for certain conditions and especially those with developmental delays, the sooner we start, the better – because we can more effectively “train” neural pathways the younger the child. But what about babies? What does occupational therapy for babies look like?
How we administer occupational therapy for babies depends heavily on the child’s condition and age. It’s also individualized to the child, addressing the unique needs and abilities of each baby while promoting growth and participation in daily activities.
Occupational Therapy for Babies
A babies’ occupations are:
- Moving their bodies.
- Learning to interact with their environment through their senses.
- Bonding with their caregivers.
As occupational therapists, our job is to assist when there is an issue that may prevent a child from reaching these milestones at an age-appropriate time. There are certain conditions a child may be diagnosed with at birth that are known to be associated with certain developmental delays. For example, a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome is likely going to have delays in balance and motor function. If we start occupational therapy for babies with Down Syndrome, we can often minimize the severity and impact of that delay.
Typically at 0-3 months, we’re going to be focused largely on parent education. Babies at this stage are just starting to visually track objects, begin exploring their own bodies with their hands and start holding their head up. We’re going to work with parents on ways to encourage their baby to meet those milestones with strategies like tummy time. We might also offer up certain toys or activities we know are going to be stimulating for the senses or oral motor exercises to help them improve their control while eating and verbalizing.
Between 3 and 6 months, typically-developing babies are going to be using their hands and eyes together to reach for things they want – their mom and dad, their favorite toy, a pet, etc. They’ll begin to roll from their tummy and back. In providing occupational therapy to babies at this stage, we’re going to be encouraging development of these skills by using especially motivating objects and toys and positioning them in a way that facilitates those movements.
Between 6 and 9 months, babies are going to be rapidly developing key motor skills – sitting up, crawling, moving items from one hand to the next, and picking up small objects. We’ll likely be working to strengthen the earlier skills we discussed, as well as finding ways to help babies promote independent movements with fun games, books, songs, and sensory toys.
From 9 months to 1 year, we start to see babies playing with purpose, understanding concepts like “in” and “out,” “up,” “down,” “behind,” “front,” etc. They are copying you starting to eat independently, and may even be standing and starting to walk. Occupational therapy is going to focus on helping kids develop and strengthen these skills. We’ll play games that exercise certain muscle groups (in the fingers/hands, core muscles, upper body, etc.).
No matter what specific skillsets we’re working on, one of our most important roles in giving occupational therapy for babies is educating parents. This is actually true for every developmental stage. We want to be supporting and empowering parents to work 1:1 with their own child at home. Not only does this help strengthen parent-child bonds, but the more practice the child gets at home, the faster they’re going to acquire the skills we’re trying to teach. OTs are also great at helping parents talk through developmental concerns and problems and formulating solutions that will work for both you and your child.
Aside from specific diagnoses like Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or traumatic injury, other indicators that your baby might need occupational therapy:
- They tend to only use one side of their body, or one side is much stronger than the other.
- Baby becomes upset in new settings and is very hard to calm.
- Under/overreacts more than other same-age kids to new textures, sounds, touches, temperatures, sights, etc.
- Cannot play with their hands at midline or transfer objects from one hand to the other by 4 months or so.
- Seems to be weaker or have less endurance than other babies their age.
- Cannot grasp or hold small objects for several seconds by 6 months or can’t voluntarily release objects by 9 months.
- Regularly bumps into things without noticing things in their way.
- Is not visually tracking movement of objects or people the way other babies do.
- Isn’t meeting their milestones for gross motor skills.
If your baby has been referred to occupational therapy in Southwest Florida, FOCUS Therapy has OTs who are highly qualified, love children (and their grown-ups!) and are dedicated to providing the highest quality care for you and your infant.
N/IICU Occupational Therapy, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
More Blog Entries:
Fort Myers Occupational Therapy Helps Kids Acquire Life Skills, Jan. 5, 2024, Fort Myers OT Blog