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Anne Zachry
BY Anne Zachry
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6 Ways Your Child with Special Needs Can Get the Most out of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy helps children develop the skills and abilities needed to carry out everyday “occupations.” A child’s occupations include play, self-care routines, education, and social interaction.

If your child receives occupational therapy services, it is important to make the most of the time spent in therapy so that your little one can reach his or her highest potential. Whether therapy takes place in a school or a private setting, here are six things every parent can do to ensure their child gets the most out of every occupational therapy session.

1. Dress your child in casual, comfortable clothing

Occupational therapy sessions typically involve a great deal of active moment, so be sure your child wears loose fitting clothing on the days that he is scheduled for therapy. Wearing a comfy t-shirt, sneakers, and sweatpants will allow him to move freely and get the most out of the therapy activities.

If your child has sensory issues, be sure to avoid stiff or scratchy fabric textures and remove irritating clothing tags, as these might be a distraction during the session. Also, therapy can be messy! Don’t be surprised if your child comes home with traces of finger paint, play dough, or shaving cream on his clothing. In fact, messy clothes are a good indication that your child had a productive therapy session!

2. Provide a thorough history

It’s important provide the occupational therapist with a summary of your child’s history. Share any important details related to your pregnancy, your child’s birth and medical history, as well as previous therapy evaluations and services received. It will also be helpful to inform the therapist of your child interests, including her particular likes and dislikes.

Consider putting together an “All About Me” notebook or binder that provides information about your child. Include photos of her teacher, school, pets, favorite toys, pediatrician, and other therapists or professionals in her life. Looking through this notebook with the therapist can be a nice “ice breaker” during the initial therapy session.

The better the therapist comes to know your child, the more likely that the two of them will bond, which will lead to more meaningful and successful therapy sessions.

3. Collaborate with the therapist when setting therapy goals

Parents should always be involved in setting a child’s goals for therapy. As a parent, you know what activities and tasks your child struggles with on a daily basis. Let the therapist know what is important to you as well as your child.

For example, if self-feeding is a struggle, ask the therapist to work on increasing independence at mealtime. If your child loves sports, ask the therapist to incorporate “sports like” treatment activities into the therapy sessions.

It’s also important to include your child’s teacher when setting therapy goals. Ask for input related to specific skill deficits that cause barriers in the school setting. Working together as a team is critical when setting goals and objectives for your child’s occupational therapy treatment.

4. Communication is Key

Once the therapy sessions are occurring on a regular basis, it is important to keep open lines of communication with the therapist. I typically recommend that parents send a “weekly communication notebook” to therapy with their child. A spiral bound notebook works perfectly. If parents have information to share, they can write it in the notebook so the therapist is aware of what has been going on in the child’s life since the previous therapy session.

Has he been sick, stressed out, unusually calm or doing especially well in school? Information such as this is helpful for a therapist. If time allows, the therapist may jot a note in the communication book informing parents how the session went. However, it is important to understand that a therapist’s schedule is typically very busy, so the time crunch may not allow for much written input or discussion immediately before or after the therapy session.

If there is a critical issue that a parent needs to discuss with the therapist, it is a good idea to schedule a phone call or face-to-face meeting.

5. Observe and participate in therapy sessions

Ask your child’s therapist if it’s possible to observe or participate in the occupational therapy treatment sessions. Doing so will help you see and understand how your child experiences and responds to therapy. Beforehand, ask the therapist if she prefers that you ask questions during or after the therapy session. The therapist should be happy to let you know what role she’d like you to take, whether it’s staying in the background and observing or getting involved and being “hands on” with treatment.

If your child doesn’t participate well in therapy when you are present, ask the therapist if it’s possible to video record a session. If the therapist is comfortable with this and you have a camcorder and tripod, work with the therapist to set up the recording equipment prior to the session. Viewing the video will allow you to gain valuable insight into how the therapist addresses specific behaviors and skills in therapy without your physical presence being a distraction to the child. As long is the therapist is comfortable with this, it can be a nice option to attending a session.

6. Ask for a Home Therapy Program

Because the time in therapy is limited, it is important that children carry out therapeutic activities at home. Ask the occupational therapist for a variety of fun, meaningful activities that you and your child can carry out at home for ten to fifteen minutes several times each week.

The home program should include simple, specific therapeutic activities that are not overly time consuming. Implementing therapeutic strategies and activities into everyday routines ensures carryover of skills in the home setting.

As a parent, you know your child best and you are committed to her success. Providing valuable information about your child and sharing your concerns as well as your goals for therapy will help the therapist understand the unique needs of your child. Together, you can work as a team to ensure that your child reaches her highest potential.

Anne Zachry

Written on September 5, 2014 by:

Dr. Anne Zachry is a pediatric occupational therapist and Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She is also author of the award-winning parenting book, Retro Baby. For more tips and suggestions related to occupational therapy, be sure to visit her website at http://drzachryspedsottips.blogspot.com/.
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