Occupational Therapy for Children Birth to 3 Years: Early Intervention
Early intervention services aim to treat delays and developmental problems from the earliest time possible. The first three years of life are the most crucial in terms of the developing brain and body. Evidence-based research studies prove that the best window of opportunity for progress is from birth through age 3.
Infants may require additional help meeting their developmental milestones, such as grasping toys, tracking people and objects, lifting their head up while lying on their stomachs, having a strong suck on the bottle or nipple, and adequately retrieving food from a spoon. They may also have difficulties with self-regulation and calming, and may appear “fussy” or “colicky”. OT treatment with infants includes educating the parents/caregivers on activities they can do at home to encourage their infant to meet all of these developmental challenges. It is best done in the infant’s home or other natural environment (i.e., daycare, grandparent’s house, etc). All infants can benefit from daily massage as well, whether they have developmental delays or not. Please refer to the “Other Services” page for more information on infant massage.
Examples of diagnoses in which OT treatment may be indicated for infants include:
- Down syndrome
- Developmental Delays
- Failure to Thrive
- Cerebral Palsy
- Congenital Birth Defects
- Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol
- Neural Tube Defects
- Feeding Problems
- Sensory Regulation Problems
- Vision Disorders
Occupational Therapy for Pre-School Aged Children
Pre-school aged children (ages 3-5 years) may need occupational therapy to address difficulties with their play skills, feeding skills, sensory processing problems, pre-writing and academic readiness skills, and/or self-help skills. A skilled occupational therapist will make direct observations and interact with your child in order to gather more information on the child’s skills.
This could include such specific functional skills like:
- How the child uses a spoon and fork
- How well the child drinks from an open cup
- General play skills: What toys does your child tend to choose to play with when given free choice? How does your child play with his toys? Is there any pretend play? Does he interact with other adults or children in the room?
- Sensory processing abilities: Will your child play with toys of various textures? Does he like to get his hands dirty? How well does he tolerate bath time? Does he like the playground?
- Coloring, cutting, and drawing pre-writing strokes
- Writing his/her name and/or letters of the alphabet
- Dressing and undressing by him or herself; manipulating buttons, zippers, and other fasteners on clothing
These are some of the areas that an occupational therapist will observe and assess to determine if your child is developing at an appropriate age level. The therapist will likely ask you, the parent or caregiver, a lot of questions regarding your child and the typical behavior you see at home and in other environments.
Diagnoses at this age range that may necessitate occupational therapy services can include:
- Global developmental delays
- Diagnosed learning disabilities
- Vision problems
- Sensory processing problems
…and other diagnoses listed in the Birth to 3 Years section
Occupational Therapy for School-Age Children
Children in the school setting may or may not qualify for school-based occupational therapy. Children must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in order to obtain occupational therapy services, but first they must qualify for therapy through testing. Some children can receive school-based occupational therapy on a 504 Plan.
However, there are many children with delays and/or sensory processing problems whose issues are not great enough to qualify them for school services. Many children can “fall through the cracks” if their needs are not identified. Private occupational therapy can evaluate a child’s grasping, fine motor, visual-motor, visual-perceptual, and feeding skills, among other areas, in order to determine how private therapy can best suit the child’s and family’s needs.
In addition to the list of diagnoses found under the headings of Birth to 3 Years and Pre-School Age, here are others that can warrant occupational therapy services:
- Intellectually Disabled
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)
- Traumatic Brain Injury
Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list; this is just a sample of diagnoses in which occupational therapy can be of benefit. Often times, children may not have a diagnosis of anything, but upon further evaluation they may have visual-motor or fine motor delays that need the attention of occupational therapy.