Pediatric Occupational Therapy Signs and Symptoms

How Do I Know If My Child Needs Occupational Therapy?

Daily activities such as eating dinner, changing clothes and running errands are crucial opportunities for observing the status of your child’s development. It is very important to pay attention to the details of your child’s movement, behavior and responses. Simple things like not being able to use a spoon, play with toys appropriately, grasp a writing utensil, have extreme responses to changes or new environments, or even follow basic directions can be symptoms of delayed fine motor skills and poor sensory processing skills. We see children from just a few months old all the way up to elementary school age. No matter what age they are, if your child experiences these kinds of basic obstacles, it is imperative that you seek out a solution involving occupational therapy.

Signs To Look For

There are a number of warning signs that may demonstrate the need for occupational therapy. You might consider occupational therapy if your child has difficulties with the following:

  • Difficulty ‘regulating’ themselves. A child may have difficulty calming themselves if upset or being over excited and unable to participate in typical child hood activities or may have frequent tantrums.
  • Difficulty with transitions such as changing tasks or environments
  • Focusing on one task at a time
  • Following simple commands.
  • Using basic tools (fork, spoon, toothbrush, paintbrush, hammer and nails, toys, etc.).
  • Opening containers (bottle tops, latches, buttons, zippers, etc.).
  • Using both hands during activities.
  • Maintaining posture and balance.
  • Accessing playground equipment like peers
  • Sustaining his/her energy level (too tired, not sleeping at night, too much energy).
  • Visual perceptual difficulties

These are just some of the surface-level observations that can help to determine if your child needs to seek further medical care. In order to truly evaluate your child’s condition, please request a referral for an OT evaluation from your child’s primary care physician.

Noticing A Pattern

When observing your child’s actions, it’s important to notice if a pattern emerges. The symptoms mentioned above are strong indicators of an issue, but mainly if they occur on a regular basis. Consistency of these symptoms could be an indication that your child is struggling with delayed fine motor skills or has poor sensory processing skills.
If your child is encountering issues with his or her ability to understand and focus on executing basic tasks, or if your child limits his or her experiences or their ability to engage safely in their environment, then you should contact your physician.

If your child is encountering issues with his or her ability to understand and focus on executing basic tasks, or if your child is limited in his or her movements, then you should contact your physician immediately.

Limitations vs. Behaviors

Motor skills and sensory processing issues are not questions of behavior. They are physical limitations. Specific behaviors and reactions are red flags that can be used to identify your child’s true setbacks. Many times, children try to find ways to cope with their impairments by acting out of the ordinary. It is likely your child isn’t being bad or stubborn; he or she simply may not have the necessary control over their emotional responses or have the correct “adaptive” response to a situation that may seem “typical.” Occupational therapy seeks to help your child develop that control. We simply use behaviors as a way to help determine the scope of the issue.