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What is Occupational Therapy and its role in Early Childhood Development?

Let us dive into what OT is.

Occupational Therapy is a medical allied profession and is registered at the HPCSA (Health Practitioners Council of South Africa). There are a variety of areas or fields that OTs can work in, such as hand therapy, physical rehabilitation, mental health, medico-legal as well as paediatrics.

I personally enjoy working with children! As an OT my aim is to encourage normal development in all phases of a child’s life. There are a multitude of activities, tips and ideas one can apply in everyday life at home and school. If these activities are specific to the child’s abilities and age and presented on the ‘just right’ level, it encourages normal development and helps a child reach his/her own potential. Some children benefit from one-on-one therapy sessions where they are given the opportunity to grow and learn various skills that were perhaps missed or under developed during previous phases, or hampered by an illness or condition. As a school-based OT, our role is to support a child through their academic years, making sure that the foundation is firm on which increasingly more difficult academic skills are built on.

The foundation consists of:

· A sensory system that should be well integrated. This means that your child is able to make sense out of what he/she sees, hears, tastes and feels. This also includes the interpretation of movements, the grade force with which he/she handles objects and the ability to know where their body is in space. The previous blog post described sensory processing in more detail, should you want to read further.

· Gross-motor skills include the ability to balance on one leg, catch a ball, jump with both feet, cross the midline, climb a jungle gym, make somersaults, jump with a skipping rope, etc. If these skills are well developed, it enables a child to have good posture when seated at the table when doing scholastic tasks.

· Fine-motor skills are essential for scholastic tasks which require a child to handle tools, for instance a pencil, crayon, scissors and glue. Other fine-motor tasks include threading beads, building puzzles, picking up small objects of different sizes and doing buttons and zips.

· Visual Perceptual skills which form the basis on which writing, reading and spelling is built. These skills can be described as the connection between the eyes and the brain. Does my brain understand what my eyes are seeing? For example, can I find the matching sock among other socks? Can I complete an incomplete picture? Can I find the ball in the busy picture with other objects?

Children learn about their bodies, their environment and how to engage with friends and activities more effectively when they are given the opportunity to play. Therapy often makes use of play and fun activities to tap into the child’s inner motivation as a means to improve the skills that are difficult for the child.

Debunking Myths:

· My child will grow out of it. This is not true for all children. This depends on the level of your child’s abilities and age. Early intervention is far more effective than remediating difficulties later in your child’s academic career.

· I am a bad parent if my child needs therapy? This is untrue. Children grow and develop at their own pace and some kids may need therapy; it is not due to your parenting being bad. There are a number of factors that could have contributed to a delay in development. Be kind to yourself as a parent, you already have a lot on your plate!

· My child will always need therapy. This is also not true. Some children benefit from 6-months and other from longer term therapy. This is specific to your child’s abilities and/or condition.

· Taking my child to therapy means that he/she is dumb. Very untrue! Development is like building a wall, sometimes kids just need the support of therapy to ensure that that wall is built on a stable foundation. This does not mean that your child is ‘dumb’ (this is such a bad word), but might benefit from support in one or more areas.

Now that we know more about OT, you are welcome to ask any question or note additional myths that need debunking.

And remember, enjoy the small things in life!


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