Assessment and Intervention
Our Occupational Therapists (OT's) support kids and their parents or caregivers every day! We help kids with various needs experience improvement in their physical, cognitive and sensory skills, which can include their movement, play, language, learning and behaviour. The bonus effect is in seeing a boost in a child’s confidence and self-esteem too!
Children’s main ‘vocation’ is to learn through play, which is a principle that guides us in any assessment or therapy we undertake. We are able to evaluate a child’s skill for playing, school performance and daily hobbies and tasks, and use this information to tailor intervention that best assists kids to manage and meet their developmental milestones in life.
"We pride ourselves on working closely with children and their families to achieve real outcomes that richly contribute to their quality of life."
Childhood development is complex and not all children will develop at the same pace or along the same continuum. However, there are times a parent or guardian may want to seek-out Occupational Therapy support for their children. Here at Making Progress some common concerns we are contacted about include:
Do you have memories of learning how to write your name? Can you remember peers who stuck their tongue out as they cut paper with scissors? Maybe you were the ‘tongue-poker’ yourself? They were the days of your youth when you were learning to apply your fine motor skills. In this instance, the use of the term ‘fine’ means ‘small.’ Yet, learning to use your fine motor skills as a child is actually no small thing!
Fine motor skills use the smaller muscles of the hands to perform tasks that require precision and control. For example, fine motor activities involve using pencils and scissors, writing and typing, doing-up and undoing buttons and belts, and building Lego or blocks.
These skills are essential for performing everyday tasks, including learning and academic tasks. If a child’s fine motor skills are compromised, academic performance can suffer, play options can become limited, and accordingly, self-esteem can deteriorate.
As a child, were you in the front row with your hand-up eager to learn? Or were you somewhere near the middle or the back, wriggling in your seat, swaying your legs and getting into trouble for swinging on your chair? In either of these scenarios, you were actively engaging what we call the ‘gross motor muscles.’
Gross motor skills involve the bigger (core stabilising) muscles to perform everyday tasks, exercises and functions, including sitting upright, standing and walking, running and jumping, climbing, hopping and swimming. These whole-body movements also include eye-hand coordination tasks, such as catching, throwing, kicking, swimming, and even pushing a scooter, balancing on a skateboard or riding a bike.
Being responsible for so many tasks, you can appreciate how gross motor skills contribute to a child’s ability to cope with a full day of school, such as sitting at a desk or participating in playtime and sports. Without reasonable gross motor skills, a child will become overwhelmed by everyday tasks, and begin to avoid many important activities and demands.
By the time we are adults and able to sign our own names without a second thought, we forget what lengths we went to in developing this important skill in the first place! If you can cast your mind back, you’ll remember, handwriting didn’t come naturally!
Handwriting is actually an advanced skill that calls-on coordination of our visual, cognitive, motor and sensory abilities. Add to this a developmental or learning difficulty, and handwriting is even more of a challenge to conquer!
What can Occupational Therapy do to help? We can assist by treating any underlying complications, such as sensory, motor, perceptual or postural, that may be impacting on the progress of penmanship (and these days, keyboard-ship!).
Many parents breathe a sigh of relief when they are finally able to say that their child is officially ‘toilet trained!’ This rite of passage alone is a big step on the spectrum of development.
If we were being polite we would say that ‘toilet training is the process of training a child to use the toilet for bowel and bladder use.’ As you and I know, all that really means is, toilet training is about teaching our children ‘how-to use-the-loo, to-do the-wee-and-poo!’ Though this might sound simple enough, there are actually many physical, sensory, receptive and communication skills involved in using the toilet successfully. If a child is struggling with toileting, they may begin to experience impacts in other areas as well, such as successfully transitioning into school or different social settings.
In the world of child development, self-care skills refer to the daily essentials. We are talking about sleeping, eating, dressing and personal hygiene. For example, while we may initially assist our children to clean their teeth and brush their hair, as they get older, they are expected to take on these tasks themselves.
What we may not realise, however, is that these apparently ‘simple’ tasks actually require both the functional and practical skills of planning and sequencing, along with physically controlling objects. The progression of self-care is important in allowing children to achieve self-determination while also participating in both academic and social settings.
Occupational Therapy can assist with improvements in self-care skills with intervention that may focus on attention, executive functioning, sensory processing and/or motor skills. Any requirement for further support, such as adaptive equipment, visual aids or home modifications would also be integrated into a therapy regimen.
Visual perception and processing is a term that refers to our ability to; recognise the world around us using our eyesight, process what we see, and then being able to respond appropriately.
How do you know if your child could be further supported in developing their visual perception and processing skills?
You might notice they are experiencing difficulty in:
- Picking out items from a cluttered space such as a toy box or bookshelf
- Identifying contrasts and similarities between letters and objects
- Following sequences, such as the alphabet or reading a sentence
- Distinguishing between left and right
- Repeatedly bumping into objects while walking or running
Our process allows us to identify the nature of your child's difficulties with visual perception, including some of the reasons those difficulties might be occurring. Once identified, we work closely with you and your child to put a plan in place to address them.
We use our senses every day. We judge how hot our coffee is, we are aware of the sound and sight of the route to work or school, and we navigate doorways, steps or escalators as required.
In the same way, children also manage their daily life and requirements by processing sensory information. Think of the first time you introduced your child to a food type while they were still an infant. This is an example of using all the senses to navigate a new experience; they would have had to perceive the texture and taste, hear your words of encouragement, and hold the food with their hands to their mouth.
However, sometimes a child (along with adults too!) will struggle to integrate sensory information, which in turn impacts their ability to learn, remain safe, and/or be socially supported.
The five senses we are all aware of include sight, smell, touch, sound and taste, but there are another two senses that are less talked about, which are as equally important; the proprioception (body awareness) and vestibular (movement) senses.
A child will display a number of different behaviours that may indicate they are experiencing difficulties with sensory processing. For example, they may struggle to learn at school, find social interactions difficult, or register certain noises, textures or environments as distressing.
Our Occupational Therapists can help identify how a child is processing and responding to sensory information and then implement tailored strategies and techniques to meet your child’s unique needs. The goal of Occupational Therapy is to nurture helpful responses to sensation in a fun, active and meaningful way.
Have you ever been listening to someone talking, only to realise that they are awaiting a response to a question, yet you actually zoned-out of the interaction some many minutes beforehand?
Well, embarrassment and apologies aside, that’s a prime example of your attention having wandered. Lapses in attention at times is inevitable and is part of ‘being human,’ however, there are times where an ongoing ‘inability to attend’ to a task, instruction or conversation, can lead to some significant difficulties, particularly for children in meeting their developmental milestones.
Attention allows us to focus on important information in the moment by screening out other distractions. Being able to concentrate also allows us to develop new skills by supporting our ability to repeatedly practice a task, such as is required when learning to write, read or play tennis for example. If we are feeling well and healthy, our attention improves. Accordingly, our attention can be affected by diverse factors, such as sickness, motivation, sensory integration, receptive language, hearing, along with a number of other conditions or diagnosis.
Some of the behaviours a child might demonstrate if they are struggling with maintaining attention can include; repeating the same mistakes, having difficulty in either calming-down or energising-enough to fully complete a task, missing details in instructions, repeatedly ‘getting into trouble’ at school or at home for being distracted, or falling behind in learning milestones because of an inability to stay engaged.
Many people can put their hand up to say they’d like to improve their organisational skills. Others, however, find the daily task of organising themselves and their lives as a simple, almost second-nature competence. So, on this spectrum of differences in human behaviour, how do you know if your child could benefit from assistance in developing their organisational skills?
Some repeated behaviours might present as a problem time and again:
- Do they regularly leave their lunchbox, hat or homework at school?
- Do you need to repeat the same instructions every morning (i.e. clean your teeth, brush your hair, put your socks and shoes on…)?
- Do they regularly leave their homework or requests for notes-to-be-signed until the very last minute?
If this is more your norm than not, your child may benefit from support with their planning and organisational skills. Both of these skills are complex cognitive processes that fall under the umbrella term known as ‘executive functioning.’ Problems with executive functioning are not necessarily an indicator of IQ level, and experts are largely unsure of what causes difficulties in this area. The main takeaway though is this; there are techniques our Occupational Therapists can introduce to you and your child that can assist!
Social skills are not just about being able to dazzle a room full of people with wit and humour. Social skills are actually the simple, everyday behaviours we display that enable us to form friendships, negotiate an outcome, resolve conflict, and interact with both strangers, family, authority figures and peers alike.
Some of the social skills we call-on to communicate include verbal speech, body language and facial expression. If we have an innate understanding of the societal and cultural expectation of ‘socially acceptable’ behaviour, along with an ability to follow both written and implied rules, then we will generally find we are able to navigate most social situations.
If a child or adult struggles to grasp these subtleties in skills however, they will struggle to adapt in social settings. For example, children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), may experience difficulty in discerning ‘unspoken’ social rules.