Play builds child development

5 Ways Play Builds Child Development

Our Fort Myers occupational therapists often refer to play as the occupation of children. It may look on the surface as if all we do at our clinic is have fun. (And we DO have TONS of fun here!) But what we’re really doing is bolstering child development through play, which has proven to be the most effective way to teach children critical life skills in early intervention.

Study after study has proven time and again that children learn best through play – when it’s fun!

“There’s a reason our pediatric therapists never approach a session with a child saying, ‘Ok, let’s go do some therapy,'” explained FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “No, we say, ‘Let’s go play!’ Because we know that creating a fun, safe, upbeat environment is going to make them want to participate, want to take the next step, want to learn the new skill. Ultimately, that’s where we make the most gains. Those are the lessons that are going to stick.”

Here, we offer some basics on how child development is promoted by simple activities that involve play.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Play in Early Childhood: The Role of Play in Any Setting, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University

More Blog Entries:

FOCUS Therapy Hires Therapists Who Genuinely Care, March 3, 2022, FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Blog

pediatric occupational therapy Fort Myers

Understanding Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Pediatric occupational therapy isn’t widely understood by most folks. After all, kids don’t have an “occupation” do they? (In fact, they do – it’s play & learning!)

Occupational therapy (or OT for short) is a broad discipline that can cover a lot of ground for kids with a wide range of delays, disabilities, injuries, and other challenges. Pediatric OTs are professionals who work specifically with infants, toddlers, and school-age kids to help them develop critical life skills that will boost their overall development. At FOCUS Therapy, our occupational therapists want these kids not just to function,  but to thrive!

Signs your child might benefit from an assessment by a pediatric occupational therapy professional:

  • Trouble with fine motor skills, such as using scissors, proper pencil grasp, manipulating small objects.
  • Difficulty with self-care tasks, like dressing themselves, buttoning & zipping, focusing/following through on instructions.
  • Sensory regulation. You might notice they’re extremely picky eaters, bothered by loud noises, and struggle with transitions between activities and/or environments.

Learn more about occupational therapy for kids here.

Ft. Myers OT child eye contact

Fort Myers OT Insight: “How Can I Help My Child With Eye Contact?”

A child may avoid eye contact for a number of reasons, but it’s something to really pay attention to because it’s one of the earliest indicators of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Infants who avoid eye contact with their parents – something that can be observed in a baby as young as 3 months – need to carefully monitored and assessed if the problem persists. Most babies start making eye contact no later than 6 months of age. If this is something you’ve noticed, it’s imperative to talk to your pediatrician about a potential referral for ADOS testing. If you already know your child is on the spectrum and is struggling socially, our Fort Myers OT (occupational therapy) team has some strategies that may help improve eye contact.

When Should My Baby Be Making Eye Contact? 

Babies start using eye gaze to regulate behavior at around 5-6 months of age. By around 7-9 months, they use eye gaze to initiate joint attention. Joint attention is when a person purposefully coordinates his/her focus of attention with that of another person. In other words, two people are intentionally paying attention to the same thing for social reasons. If you say to your child, “Look at that big ball,” and the child looks to where you have pointed to see the ball. You’ve just engaged in joint attention. Kids on the autism spectrum struggle with joint attention, as it’s considered a social skill. Difficulty with joint attention can lead to or at least be closely correlated with developmental language delays.

As our Fort Myers OT professionals can explain, most toddlers will pair eye contact with their gestures at least half the time when they’re communicating. When kids struggle to pair their gestures or words with an eye gaze, it could be a red flag. For a child with social-communication deficits, consider that it can be really difficult to listen to someone talk, understand what they are saying and look at them at the same time.

Even as they get older, kids with autism may be apprehensive about establishing eye contact because they don’t have the ability to communicate. Some kids on the spectrum require a great deal of concentration to make and sustain eye contact. It’s important for parents not to force their kids to have eye contact, as this could result in frustration and anxiety. Instead, there are tactics we as occupational therapists can use in sessions and teach you for carryover.

Fort Myers OT Tips for Encouraging Eye Contact

With patience, positivity, and encouragement, you can help your child make and maintain eye contact. It can be difficult at first, but know that working on this skill is something that is not only going to help them in the short term, but long term when it comes to making friends and succeeding throughout life.

occupational therapy Fort Myers

Occupational Therapists: Essential Oils Aid Self-Regulation in Children With Autism

Many of our Fort Myers occupational therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers believe in a holistic approach to treating children with a wide range of delays and disorders. What that means is we focus on “the whole child,” and not just a series of symptoms or conditions – and treat with evidence-based therapeutic strategy and (hopefully, where it’s possible) avoid the need for pharmaceutical intervention. Part of this can involve essential oils, powerful plant extracts that have proven effective in a wide range of applications from boosting focus and attention to promoting relaxation and calming.

Often referred to as “aromatherapy,” (and many do smell very good), our occupational therapists wouldn’t bother to mention it if it were simply expensive potpourri. Far from a gimmick, the truth is there is real science to support the effectiveness of essential oils in numerous applications – from promoting healing in prematurely-born infants to helping a child who struggles with transitions calm and self-regulate.

Exploratory Study Promotes Essential Oils as a Benefit for Children With Autism

On analysis conducted by researchers at AirAse found that certain combinations of therapeutic grade essential oils applied topically every night for several weeks were associated with positive improvements in children’s behavioral, cognitive and emotional well-being.

occupational therapists

Occupational Therapists Can Assist With Motor Planning for Children With Cerebral Palsy

Motor planning is the ability to plan and carry out motor tasks. As our occupational therapists in Fort Myers know, this can be especially difficult for children with cerebral palsy. Early intervention is critical because motor planning is essential for every day functioning. When one has a deficit in motor planning, it’s going to result in motor behavior that is slower, clumsier and inefficient. It can mean physical activities are tougher to learn, retain and generalize. They may end up appearing awkward when trying to carry out a specific task. Occupational therapy helps children with cerebral palsy by working on these skills day-in, day-out, using fun activities to help them master each element of the activity.

A recent longitudinal study published in the Journal of Clinical Neuropsychology explored this connection between motor planning and cerebral palsy. Researchers closely followed 22 children with cerebral palsy alongside 22 other neuro-typical children of the same age. Each child was asked to perform a task that required those involved sacrificing their initial posture comfort to achieve an end-state comfort. Researchers made repeated observations over the course of a year.

What they discovered was that children with cerebral palsy showed poorer end-state planning when achieving critical angles. Further, unlike those children in the “control group,” those with cerebral palsy did not display improved motor planning skills over the course of a year. Researchers recommended more efforts be made to intervene and enhance motor planning skills for children with cerebral palsy.

At FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers, we can offer help from both occupational therapists and physical therapists, teaming up together simultaneously or working from the same plan of care, to help a child improve their motor planning skills.