In my first blog about OT, I focused mainly on oral issues, specifically teeth grinding.
OT issues, however, involve the entire body.
Remember, one part of the “OT experience” is trying to teach a child self-help skills. These are life-long skills such as potty training and being able to put on your own clothes. Other issues include brushing your teeth, combing your hair, feeding yourself, bathing your body, drying off your own body, and many more.
Many of us take these skills for granted. Our kids are not necessarily born with the innate ability to quickly learn how to do these tasks. Some severe kids never learn how to do self-help skills. Kids in the middle of the spectrum or on the mild side have to be taught them.
How do you teach a child self-help skills?
My child’s DTT therapists played a large role in helping us potty train our son. They made sure to incorporate potty training into their two hour sessions. Then we had to do it when they weren’t there. The trick with our child was to not push him. He has never responded well to being pushed. He simply was not going to be the kid that got potty trained over a weekend.
With the other skills, once my child had learned how to communicate, even with some sign language, the therapists began to find ways to teach him some independence. We watched and learned and followed through when the therapists weren’t there.
Holding a spoon, for example, was accomplished by first placing the spoon in my child’s hand and then covering that hand with the therapist’s (or my) hand. The two of you brought the food to the child’s mouth as a team.
Eventually, I lifted the spoon and then let go to let my child finish the process. Finally, I just let my child go solo.
Was it messy?
Yes, but we didn’t care. We cleaned it up.
What other skills are OT-related?
OT-related self-help skills also includes “fun” stuff like whistling, snapping your fingers, clicking your tongue, clapping your hands, shaking hands, and even standing on one foot.
My child still struggles with some of these skills. At age nine, he still cannot whistle or snap his fingers. We practice occasionally but not consistently. With some things, I figure he’ll get it eventually. Again, I’m not a big fan of pushing my child.
There’s also walking, riding a bike, swimming. All three can fall under the OT umbrella because of child who has delays may need OT assistance in all of these areas.
What helps with OT issues?
Certain OT-related exercises taught to your child (and to you) by an occupational therapist can help with many of these issues. Children will not only learn how to trust their bodies but will learn sequencing.
What is sequencing?
“Sequencing” means what order you do things. You don’t pedal the bike before you’re sitting on the seat! You sit then pedal. That’s your sequence.
All kinds of exercises will either help a child whose body (commonly referred to as an engine) runs way too high (high motor) or whose body tends to run way too low (low motor).
How important are OT services?
When our child first began with autism-related services, I didn’t think OT was as important as speech (my child didn’t yet talk) or behavioral interventions (he had a lot of negatives behaviors).
As he progressed, and the years went by, I began to notice the importance of OT.
For example, my child has trouble sometimes sitting in his seat in class. When this happens, he can inform his aide something like, “My engine is running high.” What he’s trying to say is that his body does not feel comfortable.
Turns out, at age nine, I would really worry if my child didn’t have his weekly OT session. His OT therapist has been with him now for four years. They know each other really well. She knows how to get him to his goals. And, I have her for advice when something unexpected creeps into his life. We adjust his “program” when we need to. She an important part of our team.
What can you do to learn about OT?
My advice is to find a class that will teach you about occupational therapy. They’ll teach you the basics and also how you can deal with OT-related issues with your child. I’ve taken two or three of these classes. My goal is to take one every two or three years. I like to “check in” with my autism-related knowledge and keep up with the latest trends.
OT is an important part of your child’s autism-related program. It’s another cog in the autism wheel, if you will. Not one to be ignored, either, because OT is for life.
In my next blog, I will give you some OT-related exercises.