Updated: Nov 19, 2020
I often find that if people have heard of children’s occupational therapy, they tend to know of the very tangible and physical development aspects - the support for pincer grips or the “wobbly cushions” to aid balanced sitting, for example. And yes, supporting children and their families through physical challenges is a big part of what we OTs do. But just as important, and far less known are the more ‘invisible needs’ we lend our professional knowledge and skills to.
The harder to see challenges for a child are things such as anxiety, sensory sensitivities, social and communication struggles, or difficulties with regulating emotions. These might be less tangible or obvious for others to ‘spot’, but they are just as real a barrier to participation in everyday activities.
Imagine for a moment, how overwhelming a family BBQ can be for an anxious child with sensitivities to noise, busyness, and the unknown. Or how ‘much’ a birthday party can be for a child prone to overwhelm and anxiety, and has difficulty regulating their emotions and behavior.
We forget sometimes that these types of situations could be anything other than fun, but for families experiencing a resistance to going, and/or the resulting meltdowns or challenging behavior once there, it is really tough. There seems an easy option - stay home, but a solution that actually moves the family forward is to engage with an occupational therapist. And better than just child-focused therapy is a service like ours - child and family occupational therapy.
We can support a child with coping and self-management strategies and arm the parents with insights, realistic expectations, and actionable strategies. The beauty here is that some of the strategies are for the child, but others are for the parent. In fancy terms we talk about co-regulation - using parental calmness to foster calm in the child. Thinking back to the BBQ and party examples, you can see how engaging the whole family in the solution is going to be the most impactful way of meeting the end goal: a child who can not just manage, but also come to enjoy these types of occasions.