April 14, 2024
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Defining Occupational Therapy: Q&A With Leah Gross

Please explain what occupational therapy is and why it’s necessary.

Occupational therapy is a pediatric therapy that lays the foundation for children struggling to reach their developmental milestones. Whether it be in areas of fine motor, gross motor, self-care, social-emotional issues or sensory processing, a therapist is trained to assist a child to learn or process the skills required for everyday tasks. This may include helping a child to catch up on areas of handwriting, self-regulation, attention and focus, being able to color, cut and navigate the playground. It may also involve learning self-care habits like using the toilet and getting dressed independently. A lot of occupational therapy is done through games and fun activities that entice and motivate children to get involved. Though most children learn skills naturally, many children require occupational therapy to achieve success in areas necessary to function at home, school, in public or in social situations.

Speech therapy has a large range of what it can address. In addition to working on speech and articulation, speech therapy also works on language skills. It addresses many different areas including processing, receptive and expressive language, pragmatic skills, general communication, scripted language, feeding and voice, among other abilities as well. In speech therapy, children are encouraged to play in a stimulating environment. Therapists will sit alongside the child and help facilitate speech and language stimulation while the child is playing.

At what age is it best to start occupational therapy?

We start developing the day we are born, and pediatric OT and Speech Therapy both go up until age 21. At The Therapy Place, ages newborn to 6 is our favorite because neural networks are being developed during these years and therefore we are able to see such beautiful results. The younger a child starts OT or speech therapy, the better. It’s never too early to get an evaluation for your child. If you’re worried or concerned that something is looking developmentally off, get them checked and see if it’s appropriate to start therapy.

If a child has not started therapy by the time they begin school, what should parents and educators be on the lookout for?

We might see a child having difficulty with social-emotional issues if there are developmental milestones that the child has not met by a certain age/stage. Many preschools are trained to notify parents if they see a delay in OT, speech therapy, or behavioral issues in a child. They often will suggest getting an evaluation.

What are some things kids can do at home?

There are so many great at-home activities that can help with OT. Here are a few to try, depending on what your child may struggle with:

For Sensory Input:

Riding bikes: If a child does this for an extended period of time it works bilateral coordination as well as core strengthening.

Swinging: Any type of swinging motion is great!

Sensory Box: Create a toy box with various textures and have your child reach in and feel around to guess what they are touching.

Plant Seeds/gardening: This fun and interactive experience gives a full sensory experience and builds on executive functioning skills as well.

For Proprioceptive Input:

Jumping rope

Wheelbarrow walk

Exercising balls:Roll around to help activate core muscles.

For Vestibular Input:

Roller skating around the backyard

Running

Dancing

Hop Scotch: Draw a board with chalk outside and enjoy a fun game

For Tactile Input:

Blowing bubbles- core/oral motor

Finger painting

Play-Doh

Spray bottles and water squirting

Beading bracelets with cut-up straws

Chalk:You can use this for hand strengthening as well as fine tuning those visual and writing skills

Anything else you would like to add?

In addition to The Therapy Place, we founded a sister company called Circle Care Services. This is designed for children with behavioral issues who have an autism diagnosis. To learn more or receive information, please reach out to them or view their website at https://circlecareservices.com/.


Leah Gross, OTR/L, founded The Therapy Place for OT and speech therapy in 2012. The Therapy Place has three private practice clinics throughout New Jersey, all medically approved. In 2020 Leah also founded CircleCare, a therapy clinic for ABA therapy.

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