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Occupational Therapy – Fashionable or Essential?

Occupational Therapy – Fashionable or Essential?

romy kruger 1By Romy Kruger

It seems that occupational therapy (OT) referrals are on the rise.

In some preschool classrooms you may find that more children are going for OT than not. Are teachers and parents just overly paranoid about child development, is it a money making scam or is it all really necessary?

To really understand the answer to this it is important to understand the role of the OT in the preschool/school setting.  Occupational therapists look at your child holistically whilst assessing their areas of strength and weakness. The goal of therapy is to target the weaker areas through the medium of play whilst continuously assessing throughout the process.  OT’s generally look at the following broad developmental areas:

  • Gross motor skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Sensory Integration
  • Visual Perceptual and Visual Motor Abilities

Within each of these domains there are many sub areas, which if under developed, can impact; your child’s ability to keep up in the classroom, play skills on the playground, ability to perform their activities of daily living such as dressing and grooming and social interactions with their peers.

So, the question remains, why do so many children need to spend 30-60 minutes of their week playing with an occupational therapist? Surely they play enough at school and at home? All the older generations seemed to have turned out ok without all these therapies and interventions so why is it so different today?

Children today are not playing like they used to. That is the simple answer. Lets start with the obvious, technology! Technology has taken over our lives and has become a huge part of childhood play. Whether it is on their own playstation at home, a parent’s iPhone at a restaurant, their own iPad or simply sitting on the couch and watching TV, this sedentary “switched off” play is often consuming many hours of a child’s week. People are designed to move, children even more so. Children are still figuring their bodies out, learning how to use them, understanding how to move their bodies over different play equipment and through varied environments, they cannot do this sitting still. A child’s body will grow, strengthen and develop as they move, run, climb and play. Their movements will become more refined and less clumsy as they practice them over and over again. A child who spends large portions of his day sitting will ultimately need to visit an OT or a physiotherapist to help him gain the strength and coordination in his body that has been lost in sedentary play.

The next big factor in today’s society that is affecting child play and development is safety. This means that children’s play takes place in very controlled environments. It is not safe for children to wander through the streets or woods creating exciting and intricate adventures for themselves. Instead they will visit familiar parks or friends gardens where they know all the play equipment well and the adventures which can occur on them are thus limited. Freedom and creativity of play, particularly gross motor play, has become limited to what is available to children.

Life has become fast paced and busy with no time to play. Parents are working full time and with smart phones and laptops, work continues into the home environment. Children are being shipped from one extra curricular activity to another with extra lessons thrown in between. Time for play is limited and not prioritized. Children are children. They are not just mini adults. They need to play. That is how they will learn, develop, grow, master skills and establish an identity. It is the role of the adult to allow the child the time, space and security to play freely. Assign time every day to just play with your child, phones, judgements and expectations aside, find your own inner child and play!

Some play ideas you can do at home to promote development:

  • Using blankets, cushions and mattresses, encourage your child to turn your lounge into a secret cave, creating all kinds of interesting stories and adventures
  • Play “wrestling” on the bed with lots of crashing, tumbling and turning
  • Bake together, encouraging your child to help you and get his/her hands messy whilst coming up with creative biscuit ideas
  • Make the most out of bath time, play with the water, use shaving cream on the tiles, hide toys in the bubbles