Supporting Your Child’s Development: The Role of an Occupational Therapist

Last Updated on June 29, 2023 by Marjorie R. Rogers

As parents and caregivers, our primary focus is to facilitate the healthy growth and development of our children. This task often requires an understanding and thoughtful navigation of various aspects of their life – from their basic daily routines to more complex physical, emotional, and social interactions. The role of an occupational therapist is instrumental in this journey, providing crucial support and guidance. Before the online search for an occupational therapist near me, here is what you need to know about occupational therapists:

Occupational therapists are specialized health professionals with university-level training. Their primary role is to enhance an individual’s ability to perform daily activities, which they may be struggling with due to various reasons.

Children can benefit greatly from occupational therapy, especially when they face challenges in their day-to-day tasks. Occupational therapists assist children in a wide array of activities such as self-care tasks (like feeding, dressing, personal hygiene, and teeth cleaning), participating in home, school, and community activities, engaging in play and leisure activities, and even moving around more freely in physical environments with the help of aids like ramps.

Occupational therapists often work with children who encounter difficulties due to various reasons including injuries or illnesses, psychological or emotional challenges, learning difficulties, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, or physical disabilities. The approach taken by the occupational therapist can either be individual or group-based, depending on the child’s unique needs and objectives.

The occupational therapist’s scope of work is not confined to one type of environment. They work across community health centers, public and private hospitals, educational facilities, private clinics that offer early intervention services, and even directly in people’s homes.

For children with disabilities or those experiencing health or development concerns, the support of occupational therapists can be particularly beneficial. These professionals not only care for the child’s immediate needs but also empower parents with the necessary knowledge and tools to understand their child’s condition and treatment better. This collaboration and mutual understanding can lead to more effective strategies for helping the child thrive.

Children may need the assistance of an occupational therapist if they struggle with regular activities due to physical disabilities, learning difficulties, psychological or emotional challenges, developmental delay, or intellectual disabilities. Occupational therapists can provide support in many aspects of a child’s development such as cognitive development, emotional regulation, behavior management, sensory processing, social interactions, play, and development of both gross and fine motor skills.

What sets occupational therapists apart is their approach that emphasizes the child’s strengths and operates in a family-centered manner. This means they accommodate the unique needs of your family when working with your child. This is a reflection of how they align their services to the convenience and requirements of your family.

Engaging with an occupational therapist does not necessarily require a referral from a GP, but your GP or child and family health nurse can be a useful starting point if you have concerns about your child’s health or development. They can guide you on whether your child needs occupational therapy and help you find a suitable professional. Alternatively, you can also consult your child’s teacher or use resources like Occupational Therapy Australia’s find an OT service.

If your GP or child and family health nurse suggests that your child see an occupational therapist, it’s crucial to discuss a few things with them. Understand why your child needs to see an occupational therapist and the specific goals your child hopes to achieve. Discuss who will be responsible for making the appointment, and whether it needs to be in person or can be via telehealth. Understand the waiting times, the cost, the location of the appointments, and the therapist’s qualifications.

Additionally, while waiting for the appointment, it could be beneficial to observe and note down tasks your child struggles with and the support they are currently receiving. Explore whether you’re eligible for Medicare, private health insurance, TAC, WorkCover, or other rebates. Many occupational therapists also provide services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Before your child’s first appointment with the occupational therapist, it would be worthwhile to write down any questions you may have, so you don’t forget them. This preparation will ensure you make the most out of the appointment and set the right expectations.

Occupational therapists have an impactful role to play in our children’s development. They not only help children gain independence in their daily activities but also provide support to families navigating various challenges. With their guidance, families can build a more solid foundation for their child’s growth and development, and create a positive and nurturing environment that allows the child to thrive.

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