Early Intervention

Occupational Therapy in Early Intervention

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You may think… Why would a child need occupational therapy? A baby getting “therapy for a job” sounds pretty silly and the Occupational Therapists in Early Intervention would agree. Occupational Therapy is concerned with a child’s ability to participate in daily life activities or “occupations” as stated from the American Occupational Therapy Association Fact Sheet. From birth to the age of three, which are the ages that the SCBDD Early Intervention serves, children engage in play and self-care. Both play and self-care (self-feeding) typically involve the use of hands and during this learning process attention is required. Fine motor focuses on the fine, or small and precise use of hands/muscles as compared to “gross” motor, which encompasses large muscles; thus, the difference between occupational and physical therapy.

Developmental Progression

Babies first start by staring at their hands and soon start using them by placing their hands in their mouths. Later on, babies can use their hands to help feed themselves, grab their pacifier and shake a rattle. As a child continues to grow, so does the quality of a child’s grasp. Initially babies will use their whole hand to pick up a small piece of food, later the child will use the first three fingers, and then refine it even more to use just the pad of the thumb and index finger. Eye hand coordination is important as a child after much repetition will twist and turn a puzzle piece multiple times before getting it into the correct slot. Entering into toddlerhood, a child progresses and begins to stack multiple blocks, imitate up and down lines, imitate circular scribbles, feed themselves independently with a spoon, and drink from an open cup.

How Does an Occupational Therapist Help?

Once an assessment has been completed, an Occupational Therapist may identify areas (fine motor, self-care and/or sensory processing) that need to be developed. In Early Intervention, a family member joins the child in attending and playing. Family members are an integral and vital part of our team. Working together we can establish likes and dislikes for the child and use them as a motivator to encourage the use of their hands. A child may need adaptations such as a splint to help open a tightened hand, strategies to strengthen a weakened hand, or toys that encourage the use of two hands together. A child may have a hard time developing their hand skills because they don’t have enough attention to practice these skills in play or they may not like touching certain toys. Sensory Integration is the incorporation and organization of our senses to allow us to make sense and participate fully in an activity or our environment. A child may participate in various sensory activities that may help increase their attention and/or participation.

In conclusion, throughout our lifetime we continue to use our hands or have adaptations that allow us to experience life and in Early Intervention we have the privilege of starting at the very beginning to help develop the necessary skills.