Overview

Does your child have difficulties with day-to-day activities at home, school, or in the community? Do they experience challenges that do not affect most typically developing children? If so, an occupational therapist may be able to help your child.

Occupational therapy is a treatment that supports a child and their family when they experience difficulties in the areas outlined below.

Developmental Delay

Developmental delay means that a child is behind in developing skills that are common during a particular age or during a particular time period. A developmental delay, however is more than being a little behind other children in a skill; it is being behind in a combination of skills or not meeting development milestones. These are examples of developmental delays:

  • Not reaching developmental milestones of sitting, crawling, and walking
  • Not learning at an age appropriate level
  • Not developing age appropriate play and social skills

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are small movements made with fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue, like holding a small object or picking up a spoon. If your child is struggling with fine motor skills, they may have difficulty with one of these actions:

  • Manipulating toys and puzzles
  • Holding a pencil
  • Using silverware or straws at an age-appropriate time
  • Using scissors
  • Using zippers, buttons, shoelaces
  • Coloring, drawing, tracing, prewriting shapes
  • Poor handwriting, letter/number formation
  • Not developing a hand dominance at an age-appropriate time
  • Avoiding tasks and games that require fine motor skills

Movement, Strength, & Balance Development (Gross Motor Skills)

Gross motor skills help us move and coordinate our arms, legs, and other body parts. They involve larger muscles that help us control our body. A child who is behind in movement, strength, and/or balance may appear clumsy or uncoordinated. They may also have difficulty with these things:

  • Going up and down stairs at an age appropriate time
  • Coordinating both sides of the body
  • Understanding the concept of right and left
  • Poor ball skills
  • Poor balance

Their muscle tone, or muscle tension and resistance, could be higher or lower than the appropriate developmental milestone. They might also:

  • be fearful of feet leaving the ground
  • doesn't cross midline of his or her body during play and school tasks
  • avoids tasks and games that require gross motor skills

Visual Processing

Visual processing is the process we use to make sense of what we see. It is a process in our brain that interprets visual information. If your child has difficulty with one of these things, they may have difficult with visual processing:

  • Difficulty with the spacing and sizes of letters
  • Difficulty with recognizing letters
  • Difficulty with copying shapes or letters
  • Difficulty with visual tracking and crossing midline
  • Difficulty finding objects among other objects
  • Difficulty with copying from the board or another paper
  • Difficulty with the concept of right and left

Your child may lose his or her place when reading or copying from the board or may have poor eye contact.

Oral Motor/Oral Sensory

Oral motor or oral sensory skills are control of muscle movements in the face and oral area, such as the lips, jaw, tongue, and soft palate. Delayed oral motor and sensory skills can show in one or more of these ways:

  • Excessive drool
  • Çhews food in the front of the mouth, rather than on the molars
  • Difficulty using a cup at an age-appropriate time
  • Difficulty with drinking from a straw at an age-appropriate time
  • Lengthy bottle or breast feedings
  • Tiredness after eating
  • Baby loses excessive liquid from his or her lips when bottle or breast feeding
  • Child loses excessive liquid or food from his or her mouth when drinking or chewing
  • Child appears to be excessively picky when eating, only eating certain types or textures of food
  • Child excessively mouths toys or objects beyond an age-appropriate time

Sensory Processing

Sensory processing is making sense of information that we receive through our senses, like sound and smell. Your child may be oversensitive to things around them and show the following symptoms:

  • Overly sensitive or heightened reactivity to sound, touch, or movement
  • Under-responsive to certain sensations (e.g., high pain tolerance, doesn't notice cuts/bruises)
  • Constantly moving, jumping, crashing, bumping
  • Easily distracted by visual or auditory stimuli
  • Emotionally reactive
  • Difficulty coping with change
  • Inability to calm self when upset

Social Interaction Skills

Social interaction skills are skills that help us have relationships and understand those around us. They help us bond with other people in our life. Your child may have delayed social skills if they show some of the following things:

  • Difficulty interacting socially and engaging with family and peers
  • Difficulty adapting to new environments
  • Delayed language skills
  • Overly focused on one subject (e.g., space, universe, dinosaurs, trains)
  • Can't cope in the school environment

Learning Challenges

Learning challenges, sometimes called learning disabilities, are another type of developmental delay. If your child is challenged by one of the following, you may want to consult an occupational therapist:

  • Unable to concentrate and focus at school
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty following instructions and completing work
  • Tires easily with school work
  • Poor impulse control
  • Hyperactivity or low energy
  • Not keeping up with workload at school
  • Difficulty learning new material
  • Makes letter or number reversals after age seven

Play Skills

Play skills are skills that can help a child make sense of the world around them. A child can gain self-confidence, learn problem solving, and develop social skills through play. Your child may be developmentally delayed if they show one of the following symptoms:

  • Needs adult guidance to initiate play
  • Difficulty with imitative play
  • Wanders aimlessly without purposeful play
  • Moves quickly from one activity to the next
  • Does not explore toys appropriately
  • Participates in repetitive play for hours (e.g., lining up toys)
  • Does not join in with peers/siblings when playing
  • Does not understand concepts of sharing and turn taking

Remember that all children are different and develop these skill sets at their own pace. However, if you think your child may be struggling with adopting some of the skill areas above, you can contact an occupational therapist.

For more help in determining what skills are appropriate for what age, view these developmental milestones for ages two months to five years.