The FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapists have years of education and experience in developing goals and a plan-of-care for our pediatric patients, with the goal of promoting the highest level of functioning in everyday life. But as parents, you don’t need a degree to carry these lessons over with at-home occupational therapy exercises. There are many ways you can help strengthen your child’s skills and development with occupational therapy exercises – most with items you probably have around the house, if you need anything at all. The idea is not just to improve your child’s development of independence and life skills, but to have fun and spend quality time doing it.
Some of the strengths and skills you can target with occupational therapy exercises at home include:
- Body awareness
- Visual perception skills
- Language skills
- Muscle strength
- Direction following
- Texture exploration
- Emotional regulation
Because every child is different, it’s important to discuss your plan for at-home occupational therapy exercises with your child’s FOCUS occupational therapist, to ensure safety and the best results.
When you imagine the fastest-growing career, your mind probably zips to something like computer programming or industry giants like Uber and Amazon. Few pay much mind to the health care field, but the reality is it is one of the most rapidly expanding market sectors. What’s more, a sizable part of that growth involves occupational therapists.
Glassdoor just ranked the job of occupational therapist as the No. 4 most desirable of 2018 among the top 50. Additionally, U.S. News & World report ranked the job of occupational therapists as No. 9 in Best Health Care Jobs and No. 11 in the Best 100 Jobs.
Our FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapists aren’t surprised in the least. First, a growing number of physicians, patients and families are recognizing how extremely effective and profoundly positive it can be – whether an aging stroke patient, a car accident victim or a toddler with autism. Pediatric occupational therapy especially is renowned to be a highly-rewarding field. Florida occupational therapy careers are taking off, with therapists in high demand and garnering well-deserved credit for remarkable progress with patients of all challenges.
Many times, when a child is first diagnosed with autism and referred to occupational therapy in Fort Myers, their first question is, “What the heck is that?” It’s a reasonable one. Most people hear “occupation” and think, “job.” What gets overlooked is the fact that children do have a job: Learning how to take care of themselves and function in society.
Part of that is learning to speak and walk, but it’s also learning how to draw and write, how to eat healthy, how to understand and follow directions, how to exercise proper hygiene and use the toilet, how to look people in the eye when we’re interacting and how to cope with transitioning from one thing to the next.
For a typically-developing child, these lessons will come naturally over time. For a child with autism, intervention is required to help them reach their maximum potential. Occupational therapy is a big part of that puzzle, and at FOCUS Fort Myers, it’s tailored to each child.
Children love to play, and good thing too because it’s great for their development! Our occupational therapists can cite decades of research detailing the ways in which play is a critical to facilitating physical, cognitive and language development for children. It’s one of the reasons FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers makes every session with children one in which we invite our clients if they want to”come play” rather than “come and do some therapy.” We find ways to engage children that they find interesting, while also working on strengthening their deficits.
Outdoor play in particular has many benefits. Children commonly assigned occupational therapy, such as those Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, premature birth or fetal alcohol syndrome, are at high risk for poor motor development. Engaging them in “motor play” as early and often as possible is important. Once they are ambulatory (i.e., moving), children should be given more opportunity to explore the world outside. Not only do they get a fun chance to work on those motor development skills, they can connect with parents, siblings and other peers and are also less likely to become obese later in life (sparing them a host of health problems in the long-run).
Substantial research concludes children who spent time outdoors do better with interpersonal relationships with peers, have less aggression and more effectively self-regulate. Occupational therapists know children with delays and disabilities especially thrive with outdoor play because they get an opportunity to work on essential development of strength, reflexes, concentration and balance while having fun doing it.
Is there really ever such a thing as a perfect family trip? There’s bound to be a headache somewhere along the road – or in the sky or on the ship. Parents of children with special needs may find the thought of a family vacation especially overwhelming. Pediatric occupational therapists at FOCUS hope you won’t be discouraged. There are strategies you can employ to help things go more smoothly.
Just as they are for typically-developing children, family trips are important for children with special needs to bond with loved ones, make lasting memories, experience new environments and cultures and just generally enjoy themselves. In fact, these journeys can be even more important in some ways for children with special needs because they offer a chance to expand their “safety bubble.”When they have an opportunity to be gently pushed from their comfort zones, we help better prepare them in life – not just to take more trips, but to be more at ease experiencing new things in general.
Our occupational therapists’ biggest mission is helping to prepare children to lead happy, independent, successful lives. That means helping them learn the life skills necessary to function in our society. At the FOCUS clinic, that can involve helping with fine motor skills like hand-writing, life skills like teeth brushing, eating and dressing, adapting to unfamiliar and non-preferred tasks and working on transitioning from one activity to the next. Families who are planning a trip this summer can utilize some of the same strategies occupational therapists do when determining how to make the travel as pleasant as possible for everyone.
Every parent of a toddler at some point has lamented their eating habits – with a common refrain being, “She’s soooo picky!” But how do you know whether this is “just a phase” or if you should seek feeding therapy?
Our FOCUS occupational therapists in Fort Myers can start out by saying, first and foremost, we know how quickly dinner tables can devolve into battlegrounds. Parents may beg, demand, reward, short-order-cook – and it can be physically and emotionally exhausting. The worst part of it is that without strategy, you may pour all this effort in and see no real returns.
So we start by telling parents firstly to stop and look at this – for just a moment – from your child’s perspective. Eating is actually a pretty complicated thing to a fairly new human. You have to use all of your sensory systems. You have to exercise and coordinate so many complex facial and hand muscles. Put something in front of them that’s completely unfamiliar (and maybe a little scary-looking?) and it’s easy to see why a child can get completely overwhelmed.
Here is the good news: It’s not YOUR job to MAKE your child eat. Nope, it’s really not. What we advise to parents of children who take feeding therapy is to think of their role as providing their child with both the opportunity and the skills they need to CHOOSE to eat new foods.
Sensory processing disorder is when the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information obtained via the senses. Although it’s not formally recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis, our occupational therapists in Fort Myers know it’s very real and something with which many children struggle, impacting the ability to successfully engage in everything from toothbrushing routines to consuming a healthy diet to paying attention to a math lesson or playing a game with peers.
While it’s most usually co-occuring with conditions like autism or ADHD, sensory processing disorder can present in children without any disability at all (research suggests 10 to 55 percent of children without a diagnosed disability have difficulty in this area).
It can manifest in the form of being overly-sensitive to certain environmental factors. For example, someone with sensory processing disorder may be so keenly aware of sounds or light touches, it may to them seem physically painful. A child with sensory processing disorder might also seem uncoordinated, have difficulty engaging in play or conversation or have difficulty telling where there limbs are in space. Certain textures, tastes, smells, sounds, brightness and movement can become overwhelming, and sometimes make an otherwise ordinary task seem unbearable.
A recent analysis published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy examined the state of research on sensory integration for children, finding that in recent years, this area of academic study has shifted from sensory processing and integration problems to emphasizing the occupational performance challenges that result from these problems. More recent research looks at overcoming challenges in detecting, interpreting and adaptively responding to sensory stimuli affecting a child’s ability to participate occupations that are both meaningful and valuable. “Participation” here could mean anything from entering a highly complex professional field of study to engaging in key “occupations” of daily living, such as getting enough rest and sleep, playing, adapting to a school environment and participating in basic social interactions.
Power to the puppets!
For children with a range of difficulties and disabilities, our speech and occupational therapists in Fort Myers have seen striking benefits in working with puppets during our sessions with kids. Puppets, first and foremost, are fun (who doesn’t love Sesame Street?). But they can also help us engage children in ways they might otherwise struggle, namely in peer-to-peer and child-to-adult interactions. They can also help kids better understand certain functional roles and responsibilities in everyday life.
Puppets can be an entertaining yet powerful visual to help us illustrate action-word vocabulary or spatial concepts. As speech and occupational therapists, we can use puppets to help teach the rules of conversation, general social interaction and causal connections. A puppet might “forget” they shouldn’t interrupt or talk so loudly or push to the front of the line. Puppets can be frustrated, sad or angry about something, and it allows the child to explore those complicated feelings and situations without being overwhelmed – because puppets are inherently silly too. They also tend to be more effective than a two-dimensional picture because they rely on visual, audible and tactile senses.
You may have heard your occupational therapist use the term “sensory diet.” It’s how we describe those activities employed to help assist children with sensory processing disorder. The technical term for these activities is “sensory integration intervention.” Many children with autism spectrum disorder are also diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, but not everyone with SPD has ASD (or visa versa).
Here in Southwest Florida, the beach is a main draw for tourists and residents alike. Our occupational therapists know it’s a great place to help your child feed their sensory diet.. Exploring sensory input – from the gritty sand to the bubbly waves – can provide just the right amount of stimulation and calming for your child, and it can be adapted depending on your child’s needs.
At FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers, we understand that when children are lagging behind developmentally, interconnected services are vital to helping them catch up. For instance, children with language delays who clearly need speech therapy many times also benefit from occupational therapy to work on things like improved social interaction or classroom skills. Children with conditions like autism, down syndrome, brain injuries or ADHD struggle with speech, but also need ABA therapy to help curb problem behaviors. Similarly, occupational therapy helps them master self-care (i.e., brushing their teeth, feeding themselves, managing their time, etc.), while physical therapy is effective in helping them accomplish those goals by strengthening key muscle groups.
The benefit of interconnected services was recently further underscored in a study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Study authors found that when a child’s fine motor skills improved, so too did their vocabulary development – to a pretty significant degree. Researchers concluded this lends credence to the “nimble hands, nimble minds” theory of child development.
The “nimble hands, nimble minds” theory is that when we focus on improving a child’s motor skills (i.e., using hands to manipulate a puzzle, grasp a pencil, cut with scissors, etc.), we will also boost cognitive learning. One reason is that kids tend to “get it” more when the cognitive skill sets we’re trying to teach are rooted in some kind of hands-on physical activity. So for example, when our FOCUS therapists are teaching a child to understand and communicate about spacial concepts (over, under, in, out, bigger, smaller, etc.), we will usually do so through some form of physical play, like building blocks or coloring or putting a puzzle together or climbing into a ball pit. Because we have rooted the cognitive lesson in a physical action, the child is more likely to retain it (and have fun doing it!).