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How Occupational Therapy Helps with Sensory Processing Disorder

When I am at a social gathering and people ask me what I do for a living, I usually have to give a follow-up statement after I say I am an Occupational Therapist. If you are not directly involved with Health Care as a profession you may not know what an OT is. It is also very difficult to summarize what an OT does because there are many topics that an OT addresses. Many people also wonder how this directly helps with picky eating and sensory processing disorder so let’s talk about it!

What is an Occupational Therapist?

The simplest version of what an OT does is to improve on how a client performs activities that impact their daily living skills. In a little more depth, how does your diagnosis impact the skills you need to achieve your independence. I have to assess a client's daily activities from the moment they wake up until they go to bed. As a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, I have to look in-depth at how the child functions in a classroom, on a playground, in a lunchroom, and at home.

I have to think for a moment to consider everything that child does throughout the day and how they could be limited due to a physical or psychological impairment. If a child has poor balance, how could they safely negotiate stairs or playground equipment? If a child has low muscle tone, are they able to sit and attend in the classroom? Are they able to open their snack packages? If their fine motor skills are impacted, how is their handwriting? Can they go to the bathroom and open and button their pants independently? A child with Sensory Processing Disorder is unable to sit still in the classroom or tune out background noises causing them to become distracted. Every day children with various diagnoses have to struggle to complete tasks that so many others don’t think about.

How does OT help with Sensory Processing Disorders?

An Occupational Therapist will work with parents and teachers to integrate various activities and accommodations to help the child feel safe, secure, and comfortable. The techniques are individualized towards each child's needs.

How does OT help with Picky Eating?

An Occupational Therapist will evaluate the child and determine what is causing the child to be a picky eater. Once the cause is found, an OT will focus the sessions and consultations to help improve the child's food repertoire. For example, if a child is tactile defensive, the therapist might suggest textured play to improve and desensitize the child's tactile tolerance. This will help them adjust to the sights and textures of foods. Once the child has become accustomed to the food they will be more likely to eat it.

What other reasons would a child need OT?

If your child presents with poor fine motor coordination they might be referred for an OT evaluation. The therapist will work on improving fine motor skills from handwriting and cutting to manipulating fasteners. Another reason an OT might evaluate your child is if they have visual perceptual or visual-motor deficits impacting their ability to copy from a board, play board games, complete mazes, etc.

There are many benefits to having an OT as part of your team. An OT will work closely with the caregivers and educators to help improve independence and help them feel secure. If you think this could benefit your child, consult with your primary care physician to get started.

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