For many kids, learning to independently put on their socks and shoes is an important early childhood skill and major milestone. It’s an important indicator of emerging independence and self-care, and it also lays the foundation for planning and sequencing of more complex skills. But our occupational therapy team knows it can also be difficult to learn.
Several skills are required for one to be able to put on/take off their shoes and socks, including:
- Crossing midline
- Bilateral coordination
- Intrinsic and extrinsic muscle strength in hands
- Pincer grasp
- Hand-eye coordination
- Biomechanical postural control
- Forearm pronation and supination
All of this to say: It’s something that takes some baseline skills and practice! Children with delays, disabilities, injuries and other challenges may find it even more difficult to master if they struggle with:
- Poor finger strength (needed to manipulate items).
- Difficulty planning/sequencing (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc.).
- Trouble with self-regulation (critical to persisting with a tough task).
- Limited interest in self care or independence.
In occupational therapy, we tend to see our mission as helping children succeed. However, we also recognize that it’s equally important to teach kids how to fail.
That may seem strange, but the reality is failure is an inevitable outcome for everyone at some point or another. The size of the failure may vary, but knowing how to better tolerate will reduce meltdowns, anxiety and social difficulties (which can exacerbate the initial problem). Perhaps even more importantly, kids who know it’s Ok to fail sometimes are less likely to give up – and more likely to try new things! Ultimately, knowing how to self-regulate and cope with failure sets your child up for success in the long-term.
This point was underscored several times by NBA great Michael Jordan, who throughout his career spoke about the importance of losing. Resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges are a huge part of what has much him a winner, he’s said.
“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Helping kids figure out ways to climb it, go through it and work around it are a huge part of what our FOCUS occupational therapy team does every day. Self-regulation is a big piece of that puzzle, particularly with children who are diagnosed with delays, disabilities and other challenges.
Yoga and occupational therapy go hand-in-hand. The word “yoga” literally means “to yoke” or “unite.” As pediatric occupational therapists, we’re often seeking to “unite” children’s physical, cognitive and emotional selves – always treating the whole child, rather than their compartmentalized sets of eyes, ears, legs and hands.
Occupational therapy focuses on the development of:
- Gross motor skills
- Fine motor skills
- Sensory processing
- Behavior regulation
- Social skills
Yoga uses breathing techniques, mindfulness and poses to help a person’s body become calm and energized. It helps to develop:
- Bilateral coordination
- Processing of sensory information
Yoga is also great for helping teach focus, self-regulation and calming the mind and body. It helps foster imagination too. Of course, kids don’t know they’re working on all of this – especially when we’re using fun games and poses and tools like Cosmic Kids Yoga. That’s why our Fort Myers occupational therapists LOVE using yoga in sessions, and encourage parents to do so at home too. Get down on the floor with your child and turn it into family fun time!
One of the most important things we do as pediatric occupational therapists is help educate, support and strategize with parents to give kids all the tools they need to be more fully involved in the activities of daily living. Haircuts are a part of that – but a lot of kids extremely dislike them. There is ample research to support what many parents of children with autism already know: More than 96 percent of kids with ASD report hyper- and hypo-sensitivities to certain stimuli. That can make something seemingly simple like getting a haircut an overwhelming experience. Our Fort Myers OT team has tips to help you before your child’s next trip to the clippers.
If your child’s pediatrician has referred your child to occupational therapy, probably one of the first things you’ll do is hop on Google and search “Fort Myers occupational therapist.” FOCUS is often one of the first search results you’ll see, but we know you have dozens of choices.
So how do you choose the occupational therapist who is right for your child? Our OT team has some tips.
By Rachel Revehl, FOCUS Therapy Parent
Earlier this year, prior to the pandemic, one of our son’s speech therapists from FOCUS approached me with what seemed at the time an absurd idea: Would we consider allowing him to do some of his speech therapy sessions via teletherapy? He’d be a great candidate, she said. She also thought it might help us with our busy schedule.
That last part was tempting, but…
“Um, thanks,” I replied. “But, I just don’t think that would work for him.”
Seriously, how could it? He would NEVER sit for a full session without a therapist physically in front of him, I thought.
Many of the children we treat at FOCUS have some sensory processing issues. These are difficulties organizing and responding to information that is “read” through the senses. Some kids are undersensitive (sensory seeking), some are oversensitive (sensory avoiding) – and some are both, depending on the sense and stimuli. When a child has trouble managing sensory input, it can have a significant impact on learning and everyday life. One of the things our Fort Myers occupational therapists frequently recommend to help children with sensory processing issues is called “heavy work.”
Heavy work is a strategy we use in therapy and recommend to parents to target a sense called proprioception, with the ultimate aim of:
- Improving attention and focus.
- Decreasing defensiveness.
- Helping to calm/regulate.
Heavy work can actually benefit all children, not just those with sensory processing difficulty. Our occupational therapists have found it especially helpful to have kids do heavy work just before or at the very beginning of our sessions.
There are many established benefits to giving children regular household chores. From an occupational therapy perspective, this holds especially true for children with special needs.
Some of the known upsides include:
- Establishing routine. Having chores on a set schedule can help reduce anxiety, improve focus and even avoid meltdowns. Many kids on the autism spectrum, for example, feel more secure when they know what to expect next. Chores assigned at the same time each day or day of the week or after certain activities can make for smoother transitions. Visual schedules can help with this too.
- Teaching valuable life skills. This includes learning the task itself but also responsibility. Children with developmental delays and other conditions may need more practice with certain things and sometimes modifications are necessary, but never assume they can’t just because of their diagnosis. Talk to your occupational therapist if you have questions.
- Contributing to the family. No matter what a child’s abilities, there are always ways to help out. It also gives children confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
- Development of fine and gross motor skills and sensory integration. Chores require use of either big muscle groups (gross motor skills) or careful hand-eye coordination and finger manipulation (fine motor skills). These are things our Fort Myers occupational therapy team is probably working on with your child. Chores are a good way to practice and reinforce those skills.
Worrying about your child’s safety is something with which all parents are familiar. If your child is typically-developing, these concerns usually lessen as he or she gets older, becomes more mature and gains better judgment and safety intuition. However, children with autism and other special needs may be delayed in acquiring the skills necessary to navigate unsafe situations – if they are able to acquire them at all. That doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. There are many ways that parents, caretakers, teachers and public safety officials can work together to create safer environments for children and adults with autism – both for individuals and on a broader scale. It is also something we can work on with our young patients in occupational therapy and ABA therapy at FOCUS.
Safety skills are life skills – and they are important. However, there is no single approach to safety that is going to work for every single child on the autism spectrum – because every person on the spectrum is different. Plus, some safety issues might be present throughout a person’s life, some might build over time, some may fade and others could become more complex. Like any other life skill, safety skills will take time, effort and different approaches to master. That’s why we advise early intervention with therapy and frequent practice.
Learning to read is not simply about gaining knowledge. Literacy (which is not just reading but writing, speaking and listening too) touches everything we do, from finding our way around to learning new things to staying informed. It’s one of the core ways in which all of us engage, communicate and connect. When a child has reading difficulties, it can result in anxiety, frustration, social isolation and even depression. One longitudinal study of 4,000 students found that kids who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely than proficient readers to drop out of high school. Pediatric occupational therapists work to support child literacy and help kids who are struggling to learn how to read.
Literacy often begins at or even before birth. Many kids are exposed to books and stories before they even know what to do with them. Sometimes for children with disabilities, it’s tougher because their early years are filled with doctor appointments, day care issues, therapies and other challenges. This is beyond the family’s control, but it unfortunately leaves less opportunity for literacy development.
Our Fort Myers occupational therapists at FOCUS work with many children who have a broad range of challenges that can interfere with learning to read and other aspects of literacy. It could be fine motor skill problems that impact one’s ability to manipulate a book. It could be a visual processing difficulty where the child has trouble tracking pictures or letters in a story. It might be auditory processing difficulty, where a child struggles to process and understand what he hears. They may have attention problems that make it hard to sit long enough in a lap to read a book. It could also be sensory issues like tactile defensiveness that make it arduous to interact with printed materials or writing utensils.
The way we address it in our OT sessions is first to break down these challenges into bite-sized pieces that can be addressed in smaller steps. From there, we turn our attention to finding what interests the child. Then we incorporate activities and tools that will help strengthen their abilities.