occupational therapists help kids with reading difficulties

Tackling Reading Difficulties: How Our Fort Myers Occupational Therapists Help

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.

As occupational therapists, we try to gain understanding of the child’s literacy challenges by zooming both in and out – gaining both holistic and context-specific perspectives. Reading difficulties can be caused by a number of issues, and we aren’t limited to addressing a single aspect, though we may tackle just one at a time. We’re also of the mind that it’s really never too early to start working the skills necessary for literacy into the child’s occupational therapy goals.

Activities Occupational Therapists Use to Encourage Reading, Literacy

We develop environmental supports and children’s skill sets so they can be successful in reading and literacy. We might break down the skills/solutions like this:

  • Reading. We can find books that will be motivating students or use therapy equipment such as t-stools, therapy balls or weighted vests/blankets to help keep children engaged. We might also look into book stands to help stabilize reading material. Focus on the interaction more than getting through an entire book, allowing the child to take the lead with things about the book that capture their interest. We also encourage parents to point out words in all kinds of environments, such as street signs along the road or printed on the back of cereal boxes at the store.
  • Writing. One activity many kids seem to enjoy is “writing” their own book. We may start with pictures and a simple activity or favorite place or person. The goal early on is to get children expressing their own ideas in writing. Paint and other mediums can also be effective for this in the beginning.
  • Talking. One effective way we can work on children’s ability to speak (which, again, is part of literacy) is to engage them in songs or chants or rhymes while engaged in a gross motor activity, such as swimming in a ball pit or jumping on a trampoline.
  • Listening. This can be a tough one for children with ADHD or receptive language issues. One method we’ve found to be effective is to design sensory activities that help children stay focused and attend to what’s being said to them. We can help parents and teachers to carry this over by developing a sensory diet. Sometimes something as simple as engaging them in sensory activities before sitting down to read can help children stay calmer and more attentive for longer.

These are just some general ways our occupational therapists work on promoting literacy. We recognize that what works for one child may not work for another. That’s why we tailor all occupational therapy goals to the individual. We want to see all our patients achieve their highest literacy potential. If you have questions, please raise them with your FOCUS OT!

FOCUS offers pediatric occupational therapy in Fort Myers, Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Emergent Literacy for Children With Disabilities, Feb. 22, 2020, By Gretchen Hanser, AOTA.org

More Blog Entries:

Some Lee Schools Unveil Sensory Rooms – Why Our FOCUS Occupational Therapists Think More Should, Dec. 12, 2019, FOCUS Fort Myers Occupational Therapy Blog

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