Written by: Elizabeth (Beth) Stuckey, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist at Pediatric Achievements
Did you know that April is Occupational Therapy Month? Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals that work with individuals across the lifespan to help them do the things they WANT to, NEED to, and MUST do throughout their daily lives. At Pediatric Achievements, our occupational therapists specialize in helping individuals from birth through age 21 in a wide variety of areas. To help highlight the broad scope of things occupational therapists do, we have created the ABCs of Pediatric OT!
A is for Attention! Occupational therapists help children develop the skills they need to attend to activities, such as academic, play, or self-care activities. For example, occupational therapists can help by providing home movement activities to facilitate attention, making seating modifications, or teaching strategies for children to use to better attend.
B is for Bilateral Coordination! This is when you use both hands (or both sides of your body) together to complete a task. We use this regularly for activities such as dressing and even during play! Occupational therapists are skilled in developing and refining bilateral coordination skills.
C is for Coloring! A classic example of a childhood activity is coloring! Difficulty with this task could be related to a child’s strength, fine motor control, visual skills, or grasping patterns. Occupational therapists can help children better engage in this task by addressing the skills required for this task during therapy.
D is for Daily Activities! As occupational therapists, our “bread and butter” is daily activities. Pediatric occupational therapists focus on helping children engage in activities such as self-care tasks (dressing, feeding, grooming), academic tasks, and play!
E is for Executive Functioning! Executive functioning skills are cognitive skills we use daily to make decisions, complete activities, and navigate life’s challenges. Occupational therapists work with children to help develop and refine these skills so that they can be successful at school, home, and beyond.
F is for Feeding! Occupational therapists help children across the life span with feeding skills. Occupational therapists may help by addressing the oral motor skills needed for feeding or navigating food challenges in order to expand a child’s food repertoire.
G is for Grasping! Whether it’s learning to grasp a crayon, marker, spoon, scissors, or pencil, occupational therapists help children develop appropriate grasp patterns so they can do the things they want and need to do!
H is for Haircuts! Some of our friends have a hard time getting their hair cut. Occupational therapists can provide resources for parents and kids to cope with the sensory challenges associated with haircuts.
I is for Isolated Finger Movements! Children use isolated fingers (like a pointer finger) to interact with toys, point at pictures in books, and pop bubbles. Some children have a hard time coordinating this isolation. Occupational therapists can help!
J is for the Just Right Challenge! Occupational therapists love to provide children with the “just right challenge.” This refers to a task that challenges their skills but is not too challenging where they cannot experience success!
K is for Knot! Tying a knot is just one of the important steps of shoe-tying. Shoe-tying can be a very tricky skill to learn. Occupational therapists can help children learn to do this part of getting dressed and ready for school!
L is for Life Skills! While we’ve already talked about daily activities, pediatric occupational therapists can also help kids develop skills they will need as adults! For example, this can include money management or simple meal preparation.
M is for Modifications! Occupational therapists are experts in analyzing activities and then modifying those activities based on an individual’s needs and skills. For example, pediatric occupational therapists could provide alternative seating for school, suggest a specific adaptive pencil, or teach a specific way of completing a self-care task.
N is for Noise! Whether we realize it or not, our auditory system is taking in a lot of noise in daily life. Some kids may have trouble filtering out unimportant noise, while others may have strong reactions to certain noises. Regardless, occupational therapists can help improve auditory processing so that children can better participate in their environments!
O is for Oculomotor Control! Occupational therapists also work with visual skills such as the oculomotor control needed to catch a ball, read, or do a fun maze! Occupational therapists also provide screenings to know when to refer to specific eye professionals such as developmental optometrists or ophthalmologists.
P is for Pre-Writing! We have all heard of handwriting, but did you know that there are pre-writing shapes that children should learn before learning their uppercase letters? Occupational therapists can help children progress through these developmentally appropriate shapes so that they may be more successful when it’s time to learn their letters.
Q is for Quarters! Learning how to manipulate coins or manage money can be difficult. Occupational therapists can help children develop the hand skills they need to manipulate coins or teach money management skills as they get older.
R is for Regulation! Regulation skills are important for dealing with daily frustrations and emotions. Occupational therapists can help children develop regulation skills so that they can better cope with life’s challenges.
S is for Sensory Processing! Throughout the day, our sensory systems are taking in a variety of information. Sometimes children have difficulty processing this information. That’s where occupational therapists come in! Occupational therapists are experts in sensory processing and can help children develop skills to better process sensory information to interact with the world around them to make it easier to engage in daily activities.
T is for Tactile! One of the eight sensory systems is the tactile system! Some of the children occupational therapists work with have big reactions to messy, sticky, or wet textures. Occupational therapists are skilled in creating treatment activities that help children better tolerate the textures they encounter as a part of daily life.
U is for Underlying Skills! Occupational therapists are experts in deciding what underlying skills are impacting a child’s ability to engage in a specific task! Occupational therapists then design treatment activities to address these skills.
V is for Vestibular! The vestibular system is one of the eight sensory systems. This system is all about movement! Some children may be very sensitive to vestibular (movement) sensations, making things like car rides or playing on a playground difficult. Other children may seek out vestibular input by spinning, crashing, or climbing in a way that interferes with participating in other activities. Regardless of the situation, occupational therapists help design interventions to improve vestibular processing.
W is for Writing! Occupational therapists help children of all ages with their writing through specialized interventions, skill development, multi-sensory experiences (who doesn’t like writing in shaving cream!?) and experimenting with different types of paper.
X is for X… the Letter! Learning to form the slant lines needed to make an “X” can be one of the trickiest pre-writing shapes! Occupational therapists help create activities to help children develop the skills they need to write letters with diagonal lines.
Y is for Yoga! Many occupational therapists use yoga to work on strengthening, coordination, and body awareness.
Z is for Zippers! Learning how to manipulate a zipper can be very tricky because of the fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and bilateral coordination skills required for this goal! Occupational therapists can help kids learn to complete this task!
We hope you learned a little bit more about how occupational therapists can help your child! There are so many more things that we didn’t even cover in this article! If you have any questions about how we might be able to help your child, please call our office: 703-491-1044
Elizabeth (Beth) Stuckey, OTD, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist at Pediatric Achievements in Virginia. She received her doctorate in occupational therapy from Belmont University. Her specialty areas are sensory processing and feeding, and in her spare time, she enjoys the outdoors, baking, and practicing her calligraphy!