Occupational therapy is focused on helping people achieve independence in all areas of their lives. To many people, Occupational therapy is only meant for the treatment and assessment of psychiatric and physical conditions in adults using specific purposeful activities to promote independent function in all areas of their daily lives and prevent disability.
However, occupational therapy is also a very effective way of helping young children and toddlers with various needs improve their physical, cognitive and motor skills thereby enhancing their self esteem and giving them a sense of accomplishment. This will in turn provide the children with the confidence needed to live a successful and fruitful adult life.
According to the official website of the American Occupational Therapy Association or AOTA, Occupational therapy practitioners address a myriad of social, environmental and psychological issues that can potentially affect functioning. Occupational therapy practitioners use a number of activities to evaluate and improve the kids ability to perform certain task, their school performance and play. These include:
This are aimed at improving coordination, and basically involve training the use of the arms, legs and eyes together. They include:
- Hand eye coordination – are aimed at training the eyes do a better job of guiding had and other body movements. Catching or hitting a ball in motion are two obvious examples.
- Mid line crossing – This happens when one arm spontaneously crosses over to the other side to work on something on that side. These are for kids who use the right hand on the left side of the body and vice-versa. Mid line crossing exercises aim at helping to establish the dominant side while improving trunk rotation
Functional activities are those that are part of daily living. This is to help develop essential self care such as feeding, grooming, dressing, and toilet tasks. Functional occupational therapy are many and varied. They also include environment manipulation like handling door knobs, switches, the TV remote, phones,etc.
These are needed to help develop good handwriting and be at ease with tasks that require precision. The programs developed by occupational therapists are designed to give the patient a sense of achievement while helping him/her develop essential drawing, writing and coloring. They include:
- Scissor cutting provides ideas to help children practice using scissors to cut
- Hand and finger movements to improve grasping
- Shoulder exercises to help kids strengthen their larger shoulder muscles to support their smaller hand muscles.
- Wrist exercises
- Kindergarten hand activities
- Clay Activities
These are activities to help prepare for the demands of schools and play such as concentrating, handwriting, following instructions, teamwork and sports. Core exercises are aimed at strengthening the children’s core muscles without which he/she will struggle to stand, sit and carry out tasks involving fine motor capabilities. Some of the most common core exercises include snake curls, chair leg lifts and crab walks.
These are aimed at improving the way toddlers hold pencil or crayon. Developing the right pencil grip makes it easy for kid to write neatly and at a good speed without tiring. The index, thumb and middle fingers (tripod fingers) have to be trained to work together. Handwriting programs are usually introduced after the other fine motor skills are properly developed.
To help children and toddlers make sense of information that the brain is receiving from the eyes. These activities can be grouped into three depending on the area of visual perception being tested:
- Form constancy involve playing games to learn shapes and the skill helps kids realize that an object remains the same regardless of where it is seen.
- Visual discrimination are games and tasks to encourage kids and toddlers learn to pay attention to visual details. Typically involves matching things and identifying those that do not belong.
- Visual closure to help kids make sense of partially visible objects. Can be a great help in helping children decode words and read more fluently.
- Figure-ground perception to help children and toddlers learn to find information or spot objects in a busy background.
Bilateral coordination is aimed at increasing the child’s ability to use and coordinate both sides of the body. This is essential for tasks such as using a fork and knife together, tying shoelaces, skipping etc.