Why do so many of our children need occupational therapy?

As a Mother of children that both need Occupational Therapy, it got me thinking, is OT just a new age fad and if not, why do so many children require OT. Before my boys reached school, I had not really heard of OT and was not sure what exactly it was, and why the need for it.

I remember when they were babies, the clinic sister would check their milestones, and see if they crossed the midline, told us to do tactile activities and encourage the pincer grip. She would check their bilateral integration and hand eye coordination.

Well nobody tells you that these are not just mile stones but if they are not reached they will affect your child for pretty much their entire foundation phase of schooling, depending on the degree of the problem.

My boys are like monkeys, and even from little they were up the burglar bars, climbing on counter tops, up trees and have always loved the jungle gyms, Joshua had such good aim that he managed to get a stone that he threw off the deck, slap bang in the middle of my windscreen first throw and Keagan prefers to be upside down or hanging by one leg with no hands. Draws are used as step ladders and cupboard shelves make it easier to get up high.

So why OT? Teacher: “Your boy has very poor core strength.” Me: “What do you mean, if I could do as many sit up’s as him, I would eat pudding everyday”

OT 1

What I never understood is that core strength is not stomach muscles, it is the stomach, back, pelvises and all the tiny muscles around these areas that help you to keep your body up straight. The quick explanation for this is that if your child has low muscle tone or bad core strength, makes it is very difficult for children to sit still as they have to keep adjusting to get comfortable. This can also affect their balance. The occupational therapist will in turn work with your child, doing certain activities that will strengthen these muscles.

Fine motor, boy have I heard this word thrown around a lot since the boys started school. Pencil grip, finger strength, hand eye coordination and hand dominance. This all sounds very la de da, but unfortunately the bottom line is that if you do not have these things 100%, there are difficulties with our everyday lives. For example: tying your shoe laces, zips and buttons, poor handwriting due to rapid fatigue of the hand. Even little things like undoing a lid on a bottle can be a challenge. Once again the Occupational Therapist has many skills and tricks up her sleeve, and will work on improving these fine motor skills.

Occupational therapy is designed to help children when they have a physical, sensory or cognitive disability, and by disability I mean that they always find it difficult. These children will not be able to perform activities compared to children of the same age.

OT 2

Ok so now we have an understanding of Occupational Therapy and understanding the need for it, and how it works is clear, but this still did not satisfy me, as to why the huge increase in the last decade or two. After much research I found the following: it is suggested that the increase comes because the high demand for our children to perform. When we were young, there was no grade R, you would spend your time at preschool playing, drawing, painting and building all those necessary muscles. Now days, our 5 year olds are expected to sit at a desk doing table top exercises, and formal schooling. The major reasons for their decreased development in areas are that their movement is restricted, they are pushed from an early age and there is no room to be a late bloomer. The other foundational skills that are just as important seem to be forgotten. Unfortunately this is not going to change. It is the fast moving day and age that we live in. I came across this great article that goes into more detail about this topic if you would like a little more insight.

So what we can do about it is to educate new parents on why muscle tone and gross and fine motor coordination etc. are so important and to make sure that it becomes a focus for them. If you feel that you have missed this opportunity, don’t panic, you don’t need to stop practicing, there are so many age appropriate things that can help your children. Lego, pickup sticks, even kneading dough to make bread or Pizza. Support OT if your child needs it and remember as Moms, we only know what we are told.

Keagan my first child went from me feeding him to eating with a spoon by himself, at the time I thought he was the world’s first genius. I was so glad that my boy did not do the finger food thing because as far as I was concerned it was messy and revolting. Who wants their child mushing their food and then scooping half in their mouth while the rest ends up on the floor? If only I had of known the importance and how it would have an impact on his future. Now he has to become a doctor, as they are the only ones who get away with hand writing like his.

I will be sure to put in a homemade pizza recipe in my next edition.

Keep a look out for our article on ADD/ADHD as OT is often strongly linked.