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Occupational Therapy’s Role in Improving Self-Care Performance in Children

The role of the occupational therapist, when working with clients of any age, is to support participation and daily functioning. For a child, one of the primary occupations is self-care. Self-care Blog-Self-Care-Skills-Main-Landscapeskills, which include feeding, toileting, dressing, bathing and grooming, are classified as Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s), because they are a critical part of a child’s overall health and participation each and every day. In order to participate in self-care, a child must have component skills within a variety of performance areas, and delays in any of these areas can make seemingly simple tasks feel nearly impossible.

During an initial evaluation, an occupational therapist will help you determine which performance deficits or barriers within the child’s environment are causing your child to struggle with self-care. The OT will first obtain information by asking you questions about your home setup, your family’s routines, what kind of assistance your child currently needs to perform age-appropriate self-care skills, and what your goals are in terms of self-care independence.

These questions will help the therapist obtain a snapshot of your child’s current self-care performance and provide more information about the home environment in which your child is performing. The therapist will also complete a comprehensive evaluation of your child’s underlying skills through clinical observation and standardized testing to determine potential causes of delayed self-care skills.

Below are a variety of performance areas an occupational therapist will assess that could contribute to self-care performance:

  • Motor performance: A child’s physical ability to perform the motor tasks required for a self-care skill is dependent on his or her strength and endurance, range of motion, body awareness, grasp, manual dexterity, and bilateral coordination. In addition, a child may have decreased motor planning, or difficulty generating an idea for and executing a specific movement pattern.
    • Example: A child may be unable to tie his shoes because he cannot maintain a pincer grasp on the shoelaces.
  • Executive Functioning and Attention: A child may have difficulty sustaining attention to a self-care task, sequencing the steps of a task in an efficient order, or remembering when and how to do the task at all.
    • Example: A child may not be able to remember or mix up the order of steps to tying shoes.
  • Sensory Modulation: A child may have decreased sensory modulation, or ability to filter out irrelevant sensory stimuli. Children with poor sensory modulation may be hypersensitive to input, which can often make children very uncomfortable in their own skin, easily distractible, or easily upset and overwhelmed. Other children may be hyposensitive and not notice certain important sensory input. You can read more about how sensory processing impacts self-care and hygiene in one of our other blogs, “Horrible Haircuts and Terrible Toothpaste” http://nspt4kids.com/occupational-therapy/horrible-haircuts-and-terrible-toothpaste-helping-your-child-with-sensory-processing-disorder-tolerate-hygiene/
    • Example: A hypersensitive child may be bothered by the feeling of their socks and refuse to wear tie shoes; a hyposensitive child may not notice that his shoes feel or look funny when on the wrong feet.

Once the evaluation is complete, the occupational therapist will be able to determine if the child would benefit from ongoing occupational therapy. Future treatment would focus not only practicing specific self-care skills, but also engaging in activities that facilitate the overall development of underlying motor, sensory integration, and executive functioning abilities. In addition, the therapist will work with you to adapt your child’s environment through the use of home modifications, visual supports, and adaptive equipment to support performance. Through all of these modalities, the occupational therapist will be able to increase your child’s participation in self-care activities, thereby increasing his or her independence and overall development.

Check out one of our previous blogs on self-care written by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst: Self-Care Skills for Children with Autism

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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Amanda Langer

Amanda Langer

Amanda Averack Langer, MS, OTR/L, is also a licensed occupational therapist. Originally from Connecticut, Amanda attended college at the University of Rochester, where she pursued a double major in Brain and Cognitive Science and Music. Prior to obtaining her license in occupational therapy, Amanda gained experience in special education as a 4th grade resource teacher. She also has experience in inclusive and adaptive arts programming for children and adolescents with special needs. Amanda attended the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she received her master's degree in Occupational Therapy. Amanda has clinical experience at OTA-The Koomar Center, a world-renowned pediatric clinic engaged in research and treatment of Sensory Processing Disorders, as well as the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago working adults undergoing physical and neurological rehabilitation. When she is not working with NSPT, Amanda loves to cook, attend concerts and plays, enjoy the outdoors, and sing with her a cappella group, the Southport Singers.

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