If you follow along with our Loop blog, (and, if not—what are you waiting for?!) you’ve heard us say this before. But, it’s an issue in the therapy world that bears repeating—
Occupational therapy is an odd title that tends to create more confusion than clarity about what occupational therapists actually DO.
Especially when it comes to OTs who work with children—their title can make it extra confusing to grasp their role with this population because kids don’t have jobs.
Trust us—Most OTs wish they had a nickel for every time they had to explain their scope of practice and qualifications to someone, because of all the questions their title raises.
Because here’s the thing—occupational therapists are really important in the school setting!
You just may not have a super clear grasp on what they can offer your child. If so—it’s ok!
In this article, we’ll be taking a deep dive into how your child acquires and masters the crucial skills that fall under the purview of your friendly neighborhood occupational therapist.
We’ll also discuss what you can do as a parent if you’re concerned your child may be struggling with any of these key milestones.
(Psst—if you’re interested in learning more about what your role as a parent is in your child’s occupational therapy, check out this article, where we take a look at some awesome ways parents can support OT goals at home)
What are some important occupational therapy milestones in children?
The scope of practice of occupational therapists is both extensive and varied.
OTs are very involved in all aspects of fine motor skills development, but are also your go-to therapy discipline to target sensory integration skills and self-care abilities.
When your child is an infant, baby, and toddler, they learn, practice and master a cavalcade of progressive skills that fall under an OT’s purview.
From birth to one year of age, your child will acquire a host of fine motor, perceptual, sensory organization, and cognitive skills that will continue to grow and serve them their whole life long.
Some key accomplishments in these skills in the birth to one year age range include—
Fine motor skills—
Reaching for and grasping objects
Transferring objects from one hand to the other
Bringing objects to the mouth
Banging and manipulating objects at the midline
Using fingertips to pick up and manipulate smaller items
Using index finger to point or poke
Taking objects in and out of a container
Beginning to use tools
Sensory organization and regulation skills—
Calms and soothes when picked up by a trusted caregiver
Smiles and relaxes when held
Vocalizes to caregivers
Enjoys swinging and spinning
Able to follow one-step commands
Social and cognitive skills—
Looks at books
Lifts arms to be picked up
Begins to engage in social play with caregivers
Plays purposefully with toys
Smiles, laughs, and coos
Explores objects with hands and mouth
Looks around to identify the source of sounds
Cries to communicate needs
Uses facial expressions
Demonstrates social play and attachment to caregivers
As we mentioned—these skills are progressive and build upon one another to support the development and mastery of other, more complex skills down the line.
Between the ages of one and three years, your child will learn a bunch of new occupational developmental skills, including—
Sitting upright in a chair without support
Using trial and error problem solving
Playing with both hands
Playing alongside and even with their peers
Kicking a ball
Expresses a wide variety of emotions
Enjoys different textures (such as water, sand, and Play-doh
Engages in imaginative play
Coloring and using age-appropriate scissors
That’s a whole lot of milestones in just two short years!
And the hits keep coming!
Between the ages of three years and the time they enter school around age five, your child will learn many more skills in these areas, including—
Developing a mature grasp to hold and manipulate objects
Developing the motor skills necessary for writing and copying letters and shapes
Climbing, running, skipping, and hopping skills
Taking turns and shows awareness of common social norms
Engaging in imaginative play
Showing increased hand dexterity and in-hand manipulation abilities
Using both hands together during a task (known as bilateral integration)
Becoming increasingly goal-oriented during structured activities
Ability to hit a target when throwing a ball
Showing growth in abstract reasoning and problem solving skills
The first years of elementary school are the setting where massive amounts of growth and change will take place in your child's occupational skills development.
Children in early elementary school learn to play cooperative games, and to regulate their emotions and behaviors in a classroom setting. They also learn to write, color, use scissors, and to solve problems and use reasoning skills. Wow!
But what happens if your child struggles with any aspect of their occupational skills development?
How can a lag in developing these skills impact your child’s overall educational experience? And is there anything you can do to help if your child has difficulty with the acquisition and mastery of any of these skills?
Let’s explore what can be done if your child faces any roadblocks in their occupational skills development.
What can I do if my child struggles to master occupational developmental milestones?
If your child struggles with acquiring and mastering any of their occupational skills—it can be stressful and concerning for you.
If your child faces obstacles in their development—don’t panic! Because there are professionals whose job it is to help you and your child to navigate these challenges and issues.
Occupational therapists are your go-to professionals in the school system to address any difficulties with the development of occupational skills (like the ones detailed above).
The Loop team is proud to include talented, experienced, compassionate occupational therapists, who are highly skilled at assessing and treating OT issues in the school-age population.
If you or your child’s teacher feels your child may benefit from an OT evaluation, we’ll start the process by communicating with you to hear your thoughts and concerns and to gather important information about your child.
If an evaluation is warranted and agreed upon, we’ll coordinate and schedule a time to evaluate your child during the school day with their teacher.
Once your child’s OT evaluation is completed, we’ll schedule a time to meet with you and your child’s educational team to discuss our findings and make recommendations for next steps.
Our skilled Loop OTs are experts at creating dynamic, individualized therapy plans that are not only beneficial but fun! Because we believe your child meeting their therapy goals and enjoying their time in therapy are not mutually exclusive.
We’ll keep in close communication with you throughout the therapy process—and our team is always happy to hear from you to share information and give you updates on your child’s progress.
We also rely on you to partner with us in your child’s therapy in any way you can! We value the information you share about your child’s unique preferences, so we can incorporate them into their therapy plan and ensure we’re providing them with a truly personalized experience.
We may even seek your help with home carryover activities, to promote your child’s progress in their therapy goals, across all their environments.
No matter what—Our OTs are here to support and uplift you and your child, so they can effectively overcome any obstacles to a vibrant, robust educational experience.
Our awesome OTs are pros at pinpointing and addressing any areas of need in the development and mastery of a wide range of skills, including—fine motor, sensory integration, balance, motor control, coordination, and even emotional regulation.
Because the truth is—Many children face challenges in the development of these skills. We’re here to ensure any issues your child faces are addressed and targeted—so any barriers to their success (both in school and in life) are removed from their path.
The Loop is proud to provide Chicago families and private schools with the top-notch occupational therapy services you need to thrive! We also offer you top-quality speech, language, and behavioral therapy, as well as our extensive range of educational support services, including—learning remediation, executive function coaching, and educational consultancy and advocacy.
Keep yourself in the loop by following us on all your fav social platforms @TheLoopSLL. Got a question? Fill out our contact form here, or shoot us an email at email@example.com. And be sure to follow along with our website and blog for exciting new content and news you can use!