How can kids with learning and attention issues benefit from occupational therapy? The connection may not seem obvious. But problems with coordination, strength, control and daily self-care skills can lead to academic difficulties.
For example, a child who has trouble gripping a pencil may struggle to complete class assignments on time. Some kids have trouble with organization. They may struggle to load a backpack with materials they need at school. Occupational therapy could be helpful in these situations.
How Occupational Therapy Works
An occupational therapist is a trained specialist who helps people learn to carry out everyday activities. Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and with various challenges. When they work with children who have learning and attention issues, they help with a variety of issues. Occupational therapy addresses skills like:
An occupational therapist (OT) must have a master’s degree. She can conduct an evaluation of a child’s issues and develop a plan to address these issues. An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) has an associate’s degree. The OTA can work on evaluation tasks under the supervision of a licensed OT.
The goal of occupational therapy is to help children become more independent in everyday tasks. Examples of skills an OT might work on include:
- Self-care tasks (brushing teeth, buttoning clothes and using eating utensils)
- Hand-eye coordination (learning to write on a classroom whiteboard, or copy in a notebook what the teacher writes on the board)
- Fine motor skills (grasping and control a pencil, using scissors)
- Planning and organization (helping a teen plan a trip to his locker to swap books, gym clothes or a musical instrument for the next class period)
- Physical outlets (helping kids with behavior issues find better outlets than hitting someone when they’re frustrated or angry)
- Appropriate responses (helping kids with sensory processing issues respond to sensations in a more appropriate way)
The OT might also evaluate a child’s need for special equipment or assistive technology. These can range from a simple pencil grip to voice-activated note-taking software.
An OT and teacher might work together to help a student attain the goals set in an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An OT can also help parents and teachers understand what a child is currently capable of and what goals they may want to set.
The Benefits of Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy has been shown to help some kids with learning and attention issues become more independent and successful. This is especially true for young children.
The benefits of occupational therapy for kids include:
- Increased independence and self-confidence
- Better understanding between parents and teachers of what a child should be able to accomplish
- Improved ability to concentrate and complete schoolwork
Types of Learning and Attention Issues Occupational Therapy Can Help With
Occupational therapy can help a number of issues, including:
Results You Can Expect From Occupational Therapy
If your child is working with an OT, he’ll probably learn to adapt to his difficulties over time. This will make day-to-day living easier. Depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms, he may need to work with an OT for many months. So it’s important to find an OT you and your child are comfortable with.
Keep in mind that occupational therapy can’t “cure” your child. For example, if your child has dysgraphia, an OT can help him improve his handwriting. The OT can show him how to use note-taking software. But your child may never become a fast writer.
The sooner your child starts with occupational therapy, the more effective it tends to be. Occupational therapists can help younger kids improve social and academic skills, making their lives easier as teenagers. However, OTs can also be helpful for older kids.
Occupational therapy is just one option for addressing your child’s learning and attention issues. Being open to all possible treatments can help you find the right one for your child. For more ideas, learn about other common types of therapy.