Occupational Therapy’s Role in Development

Occupational Therapy (OT) is an important aspect of our clinic. OT plays a large role in a child’s sensory processing, bilateral integration, attention, handwriting and feeding abilities.

Sensory Processing involves perceiving, modulation, organizing and interpreting different sensations in order to optimize occupational performance and participation. Deficits in sensory processing can lead to difficulties performing activities of daily living, playing, learning, socialization and exhibiting appropriate behavior. Signs of dysfunction in the 7 sensory systems include:

  • Movement and Position (Proprioception): clumsiness, rough play, deliberate falls
  • Touch: difficulty with personal space awareness, dislike touching or playing with messy things, specific about clothing textures
  • Gravity and Balance (Vestibular) : difficulty staying still during tasks, craving spinning or swinging, experiences car sickness
  • Vision: poor eye contact, difficulty tracking objects, loses place while reading
  • Taste and Smell: sensitive to smell, limits food textures, eats inappropriate objects like paper or playdoh
  • Hearing: sensitive to noises, doesn’t always respond to name, constantly distracted by background noise

Bilateral Integration is the ability to use both sides of the body together in order to perform a task or activity. Some activities require each side of the body to perform the same motion, while others require different movements on each side. Using both the left and right sides of the body together is important for activities such as writing, cutting, typing, riding a bicycle, and most academic and gross motor activities. Signs of Bilateral Integration difficulties include:

  • Struggling or inability to catch balls
  • Beginning to walk at a late age
  • Poor rhythm
  • Using one hand to do something that needs two hands
  • Jerky movements
  • Not crossing the body’s midline
  • Clumsy motor skills
  • Difficulty dressing
  • Confusion identifying left versus right side

Oftentimes, difficulty with handwriting occurs in combination with poor posture and/or scapular stability. OT’s look specifically at not only postural deficits and fine motor skills, but strength, sensory integration, and visual perceptual deficits that can affect a child’s ability to write legibly.

Attention difficulties are one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood, that often lasts into adulthood. Attention difficulties share similar symptoms to conditions like anxiety, depression, and certain types of learning disabilities. Some signs of attention difficulties include:

  • Difficulty with organization
  • Easily distracted
  • Frequent fidgeting
  • Not being able to play quietly
  • Trouble taking turns
  • Forgetful
  • Difficulty interpreting instructions
  • Excessive talking
  • Frequent interruption
  • Constantly in motion

Feeding and eating are arguably the most important skills utilized across the lifespan, but are especially important for infants and young children. Children with developmental issues often present first with feeding problems. It is the only human task that requires every one of your organ systems, and requires them all to work correctly. In addition, every muscle of the body is involved as well as every sensory system. Signs of feeding difficulties may include:

  • Refusing food/picky eater
  • Failure to thrive (i.e. weight gain, growth)
  • Irritability (fussy during feeding times)
  • Difficulty accepting different textures
  • Long feeding times
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Pocketing food in cheeks
  • Difficulty breast feeding
  • Frequent spitting/vomiting
  • Has not weaned off baby food by 16 months

If any of the above symptoms sound familiar to you, or you have concerns about your child, please contact our office or your pediatrician and ask for a referral to one of our Occupational Therapy specialists.