Occupational therapy provides a variety of benefits to children with cerebral palsy. Physicians often encourage this form of therapy along with physical therapy in order for children to lead easier lives. Yet, while physical therapy concentrates on improving the child’s muscle tone and balance, occupational therapy assists in helping children with everyday, needed life activities.
Occupational Therapy Defined
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupational therapy is a form of therapy helps people of all ages with everyday activities and chores that they need help with.
For instance, for children with cerebral palsy, occupational therapy can help them with everyday school tasks, eating and drinking, dressing, hygiene, and other tasks they need to learn for daily use.
Many children with cerebral palsy experience visual impairment. Some children may have severe impairment whereas others may have mild impairment, but regardless of severity, therapy can assist in helping them with their daily tasks. Occupational therapy in particular helps by carrying out sensory-perceptual-motor (SPM) training which helps stimulate the senses in order to perform daily tasks more easily.
In addition, an occupational therapist may use visual input tools and cues, as well as verbal directions to assist children in carrying out necessary daily activities.
Occupational therapy is also beneficial to children with cerebral palsy who have cognitive impairment. Daily routines that are set up with reminders help cognitively-impaired children with daily chores such as remembering to dress, brush their teeth, and other tasks needed to get ready for the day.
Motor impairment affects children with cerebral palsy in numerous different ways, which can make daily tasks difficult. For example, many children will have difficulties with daily hygiene, moving around, posture, and completing school tasks due to limitations in movement.
An occupational therapist assists by providing assessing each child’s individual needs and providing services that can help them with mobility impairments. Activities and services may differ according to each child’s needs, but can consist of stretching and guide motor output techniques, constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT), and neuromuscular facilitation techniques.
Types of Everyday Tasks Occupational Therapy Helps With
As mentioned earlier, occupational therapy assists with daily tasks such as eating, dressing, hygiene, and helping with motor movement skills. Other tasks occupational therapy assists with include:
- Grasping objects
- Using a computer and other electronics
- Opening doors
- Holding and reading books
- Interacting with peers, caregivers, and parents
- School and/or daycare activities
- Sitting and standing up from tables and school desks
Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Parents and Caregivers
Children with cerebral palsy aren’t the only ones that can benefit from occupational therapy. With successful treatment, parents and caregivers also benefit by watching their children thrive both physically and emotionally, which will help to reduce stress and give a peace of mind that your child is growing and becoming productive.
Occupational Therapy Settings
Occupational therapy can take place in a variety of settings and places, and usually, parents are able to provide their preference. However, it may also depend on the child’s individual needs. Common settings for occupational therapy include:
- Outpatient offices
- Inpatient medical centers
- In the home with a qualified occupational therapist
- Nursing centers
- Occupational Therapy Providers
Trained and licensed occupational therapists should be the only professionals your child gets treatment from, as they are experienced in determining your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and in turn can create an individualized plan to help achieve the best chances of success.
Per AOTA, licensed occupational therapists are not only licensed in their state to practice occupational therapy, but generally have a degree in one of the following:
- Social Services
- Human Development
- Anatomy & Physiology
Prior to anyone becoming an occupational therapist, each state in the nation requires that they first be licensed. Licensing generally requires graduation from an accredited school, fieldwork hours, and passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy examination.
In addition to a licensed occupational therapist, many children will have the benefit of having additional assistants help them succeed. Occupational therapist assistants may also need to become licensed (according to each state), and must also completed related school and field work.
Occupational Therapy Assessments
Prior to starting occupational therapy, children with cerebral palsy undergo a complete, comprehensive assessment to ensure they get individualized treatment. Assessments usually include an occupational therapist testing the child’s:
- Motor skills
- Developmental condition
- Cognitive development and functioning
- Psychological needs
- Emotional needs
- Home and school environment
How to Find a Qualified Occupational Therapist
If you need assistance in finding a licensed occupational therapist who works with children with cerebral palsy, physicians are typically able to give you a referral. Other options include contacting your city’s Health and Human Services department or browsing your local phone listings. Keep in mind, however, that you made need a referral from your child’s pediatrician.