Occupational therapy can be an effective way to help kids with disabilities perform meaningful activities that enhance their lives. If your child needs assistance developing, regaining or maintaining the skills needed to carry out day-to-day tasks, they may benefit from this form of therapy.

What an Occupational Therapist does

An occupational therapist is a qualified professional who specialises in helping people partake in daily occupations. This may include self-care activities like preparing food, showering and getting dressed, leisure and social activities, and productive activities like work, education and volunteering. They deal with case management, care coordination, and education and support for family members and caregivers. Occupational therapists can also help people with a disability implement methods and tools that support their engagement in these daily tasks.

Children who may benefit

Children who have any of the following medical conditions or disabilities may be able to benefit from occupational therapy, however this list is inconclusive.

  • Birth defects or birth injuries
  • Developmental delays
  • Behavioural disorders (e.g. oppositional defiant disorder)
  • Traumatic injuries (i.e. to the brain or spinal cord)
  • Learning problems (e.g. dyslexia and ADHD)
  • Mental health issues (e.g. depression, schizophrenia or panic disorder)
  • Chronic illnesses like cancer, cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis
  • Severe burns
  • Amputations
  • Severe hand injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Broken bones or any other serious injury.

Potential benefits

Children with a disability may benefit from occupational therapy in a number of ways, including:

Improved fine motor skills

Children who struggle with fine motor skills could benefit through performing activities with their occupational therapist which develop this skill so that they can learn to play with toys, grasp pencils and scissors, and improve their handwriting ability.

Improved coordination

Sound coordination is important for doing things like eating and drinking, using a computer, and playing sports. Therapy can help to improve hand-eye coordination so that the child is better equipped to play with friends and perform tasks at school.

Improved behaviour

Children with behavioural disorders can learn to become better at maintaining positive behaviours across a range of environments, from the classroom to the home. Their therapist can help them practice positive techniques for dealing with anger or frustration, such as expressing their feelings in writing or going for a run.

Improved development

Children with a disability who undergo occupational therapy before the age of six years may benefit from improved mental and physical development, thanks to the wide range of communication, motor, cognitive, play and sensory processing skills they can learn.

Learn basic tasks

Occupational therapists can help children who have severe developmental delays become competent at performing basic day-to-day tasks, such as tying their shoelaces, feeding themselves, bathing, and brushing their teeth.

Improved social skills and relationships

Children who struggle to develop or maintain good relationships such as friendships may benefit from occupational therapy. There are many reasons why socialising may be challenging, and a therapist will develop a unique solution for each child. They will be able to learn interpersonal and communication skills, as well as techniques for improving focus.

Improve independence

Developing these skills can help children become more independent and self-confident, which may set them up for independent living when they become adults.

Obtain specialised equipment

An occupational therapist can also help by evaluating a child’s need for aids and specialised equipment, such as splints, communication aids, bathing equipment or wheelchairs.

Conclusion

From helping your child learn basic day-to-day skills to determining the best specialised equipment for their needs, occupational therapy offers a myriad of benefits for kids with disabilities. Early intervention is ideal where possible, and therapy should be well structured, family-centred and evidence-based.