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Teaching Tips

So, your child needs Occupational Therapy…now what?

April 12, 2021

by: Valerie Zaryczny

4 mins


When you first hear that your child needs to see an occupational therapist, your initial reaction might be concern about your child and their abilities. But there's no reason to be worried! A good occupational therapist (OT) can help your child overcome walls in their learning that were previously thought to be insurmountable.

More parents are learning that occupational therapy isn't just for children with disabilities. It's a wide-ranging profession that can provide benefits of well-being for a variety of individuals.

Occupational therapists can have a range of specialties, including physical rehabilitation, pediatrics, and mental health. In schools, occupational therapists can help students hone the skills necessary to fully participate in the classroom.

The first thing to understand is that not every student learns the same way or at the same rate. Perhaps your child has difficulty holding a pencil, or their letters aren't clear. Maybe drawing straight lines is proving to be a challenge. These are just a few indications your child could benefit from some focused sessions with an occupational therapist.

Here are the answers to a few common questions from those starting their first occupational therapy sessions.

What Should I Expect from Occupational Therapy?

Through assessments and interventions, occupational therapists help individuals focus on improving their independence and participation in key activities. Practitioners use a holistic approach for treatment that takes into consideration the child, the environment, and the targeted activities. Services typically include an individualized evaluation, a customized intervention plan, and an outcomes assessment to ensure that goals were met or to modify the intervention plan.

How Can Occupational Therapy Help Kids?

Occupational therapists can help children achieve success with self-care, play, or participating at school.  Occupational therapy may be recommended to help children develop or refine motor skills, social skills, sensory processing, or self-regulation as a foundation for independence with daily routines and activities. Collaboration with parents, caregivers, and teachers is an important component of therapy. 

How Can I Find an OT?

Occupational therapists work with children in a variety of settings including homes, daycares, schools, clinics, and hospitals.  A child may be referred for occupational therapy by a physician or teacher, but parents can also inquire about therapy services directly and learn the process needed for an evaluation in that setting.  If the evaluation indicates the need for occupational therapy, the therapist will communicate their recommendation for services to you.  Therapy can be provided directly to your child, or services might be recommended through a consultation model whereby the therapist provides suggestions and supports to empower teachers to help your child. 

How Do I Prepare for My Child’s First Session?

Occupational therapy services begin with an individualized evaluation.  The parent/caregiver may be asked to complete paperwork before or during the session, such as a questionnaire on the child’s developmental milestones and current daily functioning.  The therapist may request samples of recent schoolwork.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to the therapist or clinic with questions about what to bring and what to expect.  During the evaluation, a standardized assessment may be given to assess current skills and compare the child’s abilities to same-aged peers.  Clinical observations may also be used while the child plays or engages in other tasks.  Occupational therapists are well versed in building rapport with clients and their families.  You can expect that the therapist will help your child feel comfortable and confident so that the evaluation session is an overall positive experience.

What Are My Options in Covering the Cost of Seeing an OT?

School-aged children may qualify for free occupational therapy services in the school setting through an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Infants and young children may qualify for therapy at home or in the daycare setting through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).  In the private therapy clinic and hospital settings, the cost of therapy is generally billed to medical insurance or paid directly by the family. 

What Should My Child be Doing Between OT Sessions?

The best progress with occupational therapy is made when parents, caregivers, and teachers implement carryover strategies between sessions.  Occupational therapists help children learn to demonstrate the targeted skills during therapy sessions, but true goal achievement is only made when that child can also perform the skill across all settings.   Your child’s occupational therapist may provide you with a sensory diet, home exercise plan, or other activity plan.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions and provide feedback to the therapist about what is and is not working for your family.  You are an important partner in helping your child benefit from occupational therapy.

What Should I Expect Going Forward?

The duration of occupational therapy services varies by setting and the needs of the child, but the ultimate goal is graduation from therapy once the child develops functional independence with the targeted skills.  Upon graduation, the therapist should provide parents, caregivers, and/or teachers with strategies and supports to promote continued success.  Some children may need occupational therapy services again in the future if they need support to develop skills to meet increased task demands. 

And remember—OTs enable children and families to live life to the fullest!

Learning Without Tears is a Trusted Resource for Many OTs

Learning Without Tears seeks to help families, educators, and children get prepared for learning with innovative educational materials and professional resources. We want every child to be set up for success within every step of their learning journey, with engaging and worthwhile materials for children in Pre-K–5.

Regardless of whether the child is learning within a classroom or at home, Learning Without Tears provides access to curricula, industry insight, and innovative products that help make learning fun. Choose Learning Without Tears to feel confident that your child is getting the most out of their early childhood education.

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