9 Key Signs Your Child Needs Occupational Therapy

By CAC Staff
June 23, 2024

Every child develops differently and at their own pace. However, if you notice that your child is struggling with specific tasks or milestones, it may be an indication that they could benefit from occupational therapy.

Occupational therapy helps children overcome physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges to make daily routines easier and more enjoyable.

So, how do you know if it’s right for your child? Here are nine signs that your child could benefit from pediatric occupational therapy:

1. Developmental Delays

Occupational therapy for children often focuses on helping children meet developmental milestones, such as developing language skills, mastering daily routines, and learning how to socialize with others. While many children develop at different rates, being significantly behind could make it difficult for your child to succeed in school or social settings.

Early intervention is key in occupational therapy. If you notice that your child’s development is delayed and they aren’t reaching important milestones at the same time as their peers, it’s a sign that they may benefit from working with an occupational therapist. By taking this proactive step, you’re ensuring that your child gets the support they need to master new skills and tasks.

2. Sensory Processing Issues

Many children struggle with sensory processing as a result of autism spectrum disorder or sensory processing disorder. SPD affects a child’s ability to process sounds, sights, smells, textures, and other sensory input, resulting in overstimulation.

Sensory processing disorders can make it very challenging for children to navigate daily life. A simple task like taking a shower can feel very overwhelming due to the temperature and sensation of the water. Pediatric occupational therapists use sensory integration techniques to help children manage their responses to sensory input.

3. Difficulty With Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are the small movements in our hands and feet that we use to pick up objects, fasten clothing, write, type, and more. These skills are essential for daily life, especially as children progress in school.

If your child struggles with these skills, occupational therapy may be helpful. Most children start developing basic fine motor skills around 18 months and continue to develop them until they reach elementary school age. An occupational therapist can help your child develop fine motor skills with physical exercises and games. This helps children master important self-care skills and academic skills.

4. Challenges With Gross Motor Skills

While fine motor skills are small movements, gross motor skills are large movements made with the arms, legs, and torso. Gross motor skills are necessary for standing and sitting, as well as a variety of athletic skills such as running, kicking, jumping, climbing, and throwing.

In most cases, children start learning to stand up, walk, and run around the age of two. If your child struggles to develop these movements, occupational and physical therapy can help children strengthen their muscles and improve coordination.

5. Trouble With Self-Care and Daily Living Activities

For children, learning how to bathe, dress, toilet, and feed themselves is an essential step toward eventual independence. Struggling with these self-care activities can make it difficult for children to participate in school and extracurricular activities. This can also have a negative impact on the child’s self-esteem and confidence.

Occupational therapy services can help children who struggle with these essential self-care activities. Therapists use play-based techniques to help children master these skills in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

6. Behavioral Concerns

There are many mental and emotional health problems that can cause behavioral problems in children and young adults. If your child frequently has meltdowns, displays aggressive or hostile behavior, or avoids interacting with others, an occupational therapy program could help.

Occupational therapists work to help children regulate their emotions and communicate in a healthy way. They can also work with doctors and other specialists to address the underlying causes of the behavioral issues.

7. Difficulty in Social Interaction

Learning social skills is crucial both for success in school and for building long-term peer relationships. Many children struggle to understand social cues and make friends, especially those with autism spectrum disorder or similar conditions. This is a sign that your child could benefit from occupational therapy.

Through role-playing, games, and other social activities, your child’s occupational therapist will help them learn how to navigate social interactions. Through these occupational therapy sessions, children learn how to communicate effectively with peers, read facial expressions and body language, and engage in safe forms of play.

8. Academic Performance

Children who struggle with motor skills, visual perceptual skills, sensory challenges, and emotional challenges often have a difficult time in school. If your child is struggling in school, but you’re unsure why, an occupational therapy assessment could help you identify the underlying problem and find an appropriate treatment plan.

As children reach school age, a pediatric occupational therapist can help them master critical school-related tasks. This includes everything from sitting still and following instructions to handwriting, typing and playing with small objects.

9. Emotional Regulation

Learning to regulate emotions is an important part of child development and growth. However, many children struggle to handle big emotions like anger and anxiety, which can lead to disruptive outbursts.

Working with an occupational therapist can help your child overcome these challenges and learn to manage their feelings in a more productive way. These skills are particularly helpful for children as they learn to navigate school and extracurricular activities.

Taking The Next Steps for Your Child’s Well-Being

If your child displays any of these signs, consider scheduling a pediatric occupational therapy assessment with Children’s Autism Center. Our occupational therapists will create a personalized treatment plan for your child to help them navigate these challenges. We use evidence-based therapies that are appropriate for the child’s age and development.

Contact us today to learn more about our services or schedule an initial evaluation.

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