What to Expect from your Child’s Occupational Therapist
Your occupational therapist will likely be one of your best friends in health care. Some kiddos start with their OTs when they’re only a few months old and continue to work with them on a weekly basis through their adult years.
Obviously, it’s important to find someone that both you and your child get along with. You’re looking at a relationship that will last many many years, so don’t be shy about switching clinics or therapists if it doesn’t feel right. Your OT is going to play a huge role in your child’s growth and development, so take some time to make your decision.
This can take trial and error. While you can read all of the reviews in the world, even the best occupational therapist may not be a great personality fit for your child. After you’ve done some research, take the leap and try out a few therapists and clinics. Only by seeing the interaction between your child and therapist will you be able to determine whether you’ve found a good match.
Once you’ve decided on a place to start, here’s what you can expect from your first occupational therapy appointment and beyond.
The Occupational Therapy Evaluation
The first thing you can expect from your new occupational therapist is an initial evaluation. These evaluations are important for everyone involved. Not only does the OT get a chance to explore your child’s needs, they also let you voice your goals for treatment.
Be prepared both to be asked a lot of questions and to ask a lot of questions. OTs understand that this is not only about the child, but also about the entire family.
Moving forward, you’ll be involved in implementing new strategies at home and incorporating therapist recommendations into your routine, so it’s important that you’re on board.
If your OT suggests something that seems impractical for your child’s daily life, speak up! It doesn’t help anyone to be focusing on strategies that don’t make sense for your child.
During the evaluation, give your OT space to get to know your child and build a relationship with them. OTs are like detectives, observing every situation in order to identify skill deficits that need to be addressed.
Don’t be surprised if the eval simply looks like play.
Play is an OT’s best strategy for getting kiddos excited about participating in therapy. A huge degree of your OT’s expertise lies in their ability to turn a play session into a deep exploration into a child’s strengths, deficits, and goals.
You’ll be amazed to hear your OT’s findings after what seemed like a silly game of tic tac toe or hopscotch.
While it may look like your child and OT are playing a simple game of catch, it’s actually an analysis of your child’s balance, hand eye coordination, depth perception, modulation abilities, startle response, social skills, and more.
Trust that your OT understands what to look for and is conducting the evaluation accordingly.
After the evaluation, your OT will tell you the initial findings and suggest a plan of treatment. This is your time to ask questions and gain insight into how to address your child’s needs at home. Keep in mind that you will have a long relationship with your OT. You don’t need to be worried about asking every question you’ve ever had, as there will be more than enough time for questions as your child’s treatment progresses.
Setting Occupational Therapy Goals
Occupational therapists are always aware of a parent’s goals for treatment. With only a few hours a week spent at therapy, children spend a majority of their time at home and school. This means that what happens outside of the clinic is just as important as what happens inside of it.
OTs are well aware that if the suggestions they make don’t jive with your family’s values, lifestyle, or routines, they won’t be put into practice and the child won’t benefit.
Your willingness to jump on board with therapy both at home and in the clinic makes a huge difference in the overall success of the treatment process.
It’s also important for your OT to gain your input, as you’re the expert on your child and your home routine.
Would willingness to put on socks be a game changer in your morning routine?
Could sitting still when out at restaurants make vacations more tolerable?
Let your OT know about your daily life experiences with your child so that they can be worked into the treatment goals. Your OT, while fabulous, only sees your child in an isolated clinic environment for a few hours a week and needs information about what life outside of that looks like.
Once your child’s goals are set, trust that your OT will know how to address them. The path towards goals is often more of a zig zag than a straight line. More often than not, there are smaller skills that need to be mastered before the larger skill can be tackled.
Let’s say you set a goal surrounding sitting still at restaurants. On the path towards that goal, there may be a postural, vestibular, or oral sensitivity issue that needs to be addressed first. Similar to how we need to learn to walk before we can learn to run, there are skills that need to be developed prior to more advanced ones. It may not be clear why one skill connects with another, but feel free to ask your OT if you need clarification and guidance on the goal progression.
The Long Game of Occupational Therapy
If you develop a good relationship with your OT, try to stay with them for as long as possible. Working with your child over a long period of time gives your OT a chance to understand how your child grows, develops, handles new situations, and changes. This continuity of care over the span of years will allow for more personal and specialized treatment, as your OT will be better able to anticipate your child’s challenges and proactively set goals to address them.
When discussing the long game, be aware that it is a really long, long game. There are certain strategies that will make an immediate difference once implemented but, for the most part, progress will be slow.
Try to be patient with the therapy process and talk with your OT about any concerns you may have as you move forward. Life with autism, ADHD, and SPD can be challenging, but it can be made easier with the right resources and assistance.