Once you discover that you need a Paediatric Occupational Therapist for your child, or if you need a new one, it can be hard to know where to start to find an Occupational Therapist, let alone choose one that is the right fit for you and your family. Although referrals through other parents might be a good start, it is important to find an OT that works well with your family and your family’s needs.
Google, OT Australia, and word-of-mouth referrals are great ways to find an Occupational Therapist for your child. When choosing the right Paediatric Occupational Therapist, it is worth asking them questions about their experience, treatment approaches and trial a few sessions to see if they are the right fit for you and your child.
It can be a stressful process to add a new person into your child’s life, but if they are going to be working with your child on an ongoing basis, it is worth taking the time to find an Occupational Therapist that is the right fit for your child. Before you start looking for a new Occupational Therapist, take the time to read through some questions that you might want to ask your child’s potential OT.
What experience do you have?
This question is more about ‘what’ experience, rather than ‘how many years’ of experience. When we look for a new health professional, we often want to know how many years have you been a [health professional]? However, the length of time in the health professional does not mean they are an experienced Occupational Therapist. As Occupational Therapists can work in a variety of settings, some Occupational Therapists may work with adults before moving to working with children. Although the skills learnt when working with adults may be helpful, it does not always equate to experience working with children.
When asking this question, you want to know what diagnoses or skill areas they have worked with. The individual may be very experienced working with children with physical impairments, such as Cerebral Palsy, but have limited experience working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and therefore have less behavioural management strategies up their sleeves. Another example is if your child needs help with toileting but the Occupational Therapist mainly works in the school environment and only have experience working with children with handwriting, fine and gross motor skills.
Depending on the needs of your child and the skills you want your child to develop, it is important to find an Occupational Therapist who has had some experience in working in these areas. In saying this, there are many new graduates Occupational Therapist who may have no experience in working with children. It is important not to dismiss or undervalue these new graduates. Remember, everyone starts somewhere and the more ‘experienced’ Occupational Therapists were new graduates once too. New graduate Occupational Therapists often have more energy and may be more willing to learn so this is not the only factor to consider. The following factors are important as well.
What specialised professional development training have you done?
Even though some therapists may not have a lot of hands-on practice, they may have done extra training through professional development courses. There are many courses and workshops that Occupational Therapists can do, depending on their interests. Some OTs will specialise in a specific skill area (for example, Handwriting, Feeding Therapy, Toileting), whereas others may be more interested in helping children with specific diagnoses e.g. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Developmental Delay, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Cerebral Palsy etc. Depending on your child’s needs, it is worth finding out if your potential Occupational Therapist has had some training in these areas.
What is your treatment approach?
This question is more about ‘how’ the Occupational Therapist wants to work with your child. You may have already read through some of their materials or spoke to them over the phone and have an idea of what they are planning on doing.
There are some overarching treatment approaches that Occupational Therapists use, such as play-based therapy or sensory integration. As the best way for children to learn is through play, it is important for Occupational Therapists to make the therapy sessions are fun! There are some Occupational Therapy clinics who solely use sensory integration through exercises on their sensory gyms to address sensory concerns. However, there are other Occupational Therapy clinics who address sensory concerns integrated in between activities.
Depending on the types of goals for your child, different treatment methods may be more suitable for your child. It is important to ask ‘how’ your Occupational Therapist will address these goals. Remember- everyone’s “cookie cutter” is shaped differently so it is important to find the right fit for your child.
What sort of activities do you plan on doing with my child?
This question can be useful for two reasons. Firstly, it is helpful to see what your Occupational Therapist plans on doing with your child during the therapy session. You can use this to get an idea of how they plan on working with your child, as well as any concerns you may have (for example, if they are planning on doing too many activities that may be overstimulating for your child). Secondly, once you and your Occupational Therapist start working together, their treatment ideas may change depending on what works best for your child (yes- every therapist is different in this way!) so it is useful to find out what they had in mind originally just in case it changes!
Do you provide any Occupational Therapy homework in between the sessions?
It is important to find out if the Occupational Therapist provides any homework that you need to do with your child between sessions. Some therapists may ask for both parents and children to practice simple activities at home, while others may not provide any homework. Sometimes it just depends on the therapist’s personal preference but other times such as when working with problem behaviours, it may be helpful to provide parents with ways in which they can continue working on these goals at home.
At ReadyKids, we believe in providing strategies and ideas to children and parents so they will not always need an Occupational Therapist. For us to do this, it is important for us to discuss strategies and ideas with children and parents so they can do these at home in between the sessions.
Does the Occupational Therapist provide parent education?
There are some common areas that Occupational Therapists typically cover with the parent, such as strategies for managing sleep, behaviour at home and school, feeding concerns etc. If a child has sensory sensitivities, they will usually discuss ideas on how to address these during different daily activities (for example, in the car or at the supermarket). Especially if the child is younger, parent education is a great way for parents to further understand their child’s needs through the lens of an Occupational Therapist.
As mentioned before, ReadyKids believes it is important for the child and parent to eventually transition to not needing an Occupational Therapist. In order to do this, it is important for parents to have the skills and resources in their hand to effectively help their child.
ReadyKids provides an online platform of Occupational Therapy resources, including parent education and activities to do with your child at home. Find out more information about it at readykids.com.au
How do you provide therapy?
Occupational Therapists have multiple methods in providing therapy including:
- Individual one-on-one therapy
- Group therapy with other peers
- Via telehealth
- Via mobile therapy service
- In the clinic
- Parent education
All of these are useful depending on the child and what goals they may be working on.
Individual one-on-one therapy
This is often the most common method in providing Occupational Therapy services. This allows the Occupational Therapist to work solely on the child’s goals and provide individualised treatment strategies.
This is a great method for children who are developing social skills in making new friends. Group therapy also works when other children in the group are also working on the same therapy goals e.g. fine and gross motor skills. Some children work better when there are other children around so they can learn from other children as well.
Telehealth sessions work very well for some children, especially those who get distracted by a new environment or by other children. Telehealth sessions mean the child can be in their familiar home environment and they can focus on the task at hand. Some children, especially aged between 6 and 18 work well with telehealth sessions, as they get to use some ‘screen time’.
Mobile therapy means the therapist can travel out to your child’s home, childcare or school. This means they get to see your child in their familiar environment and also provide practical strategies based on the materials you have on hand.
Many Occupational Therapy companies have their own clinic. This means the child can see their Occupational Therapist in one consistent environment. Although it may be tricky to start with, having a clinic means the child will learn that they do Occupational Therapy when they arrive at the clinic.
When you watch your child during Occupational Therapy sessions, it looks like they are just playing games. Having an Occupational Therapist who explains what and why they are doing these games with your child can help you understand what you can do with your child at home.
The Occupational Therapist’s personality
Everyone has different personalities. It is important to find an Occupational Therapist who has a personality that complements your child’s needs.
You may see that your child responds to adults with different personalities. Sometimes you can see they do better with a teacher who is more structured and strict compared to a teacher who is more carefree. This is similar to finding the right Occupational Therapist for your child. Know if your child needs a more encouraging Occupational Therapist or someone who has strict routines. In saying this, talk to your Occupational Therapist about your child’s needs as they may be able to change their delivery method based on the information you provide them.
The key thing is whether the Occupational Therapist listens. This includes listening to the goals and concerns that you have as a parent, but also listening to the child. If you don’t think that your Occupational Therapist is listening to your needs, you can directly ask them how they are addressing your concern of [your concern area]. They may be addressing these concerns in the activities they are doing but didn’t clearly explain to you how they are addressing their concerns. They might be working on some other goal areas first before working on this particular area of concern. If this is the case, it is important for you to tell your Occupational Therapist which goal is a priority.
Trial some sessions first
One thing to keep in mind when you are looking for an Occupational Therapist is to try some sessions first. Different therapists work with different children and it may take a few attempts of meeting with a therapist before you can really see if they are the right fit for your child.
Remember, the Occupational Therapist is trying to learn about your child in the few hours they have. Therefore, they may ask more questions in the first few sessions to better understand your child and family’s needs. They may also take some time to do some observations of your child’s play to understand how they function best.
It is also normal understandable if your child becomes upset during the first few sessions. You are introducing a new person into their lives, and potentially in a new environment. Therefore, it will take some time for your child to adjust to this change as well. It is important to reassure your child and talk to the Occupational Therapist about your child’s interest areas so they can start developing a relationship with your child.
Find an Occupational Therapist
Now you know some things to consider when looking for a new Occupational Therapist, here are some places that you might find an Occupational Therapist for your child.
- Occupational Therapy Australia: https://www.otaus.com.au/find-an-ot
- Here is a list of Occupational Therapists in Australia. It is important to tick the area of speciality being Paediatrics to make sure your find Occupational Therapists who have experience working with children.
- Google “Paediatric Occupational Therapists near me” or “Paediatric Occupational Therapists in [city]”. You will often find a list of Occupatioanl Therapists in this way. If you are looking specific for telehealth sessions or mobile therapy sessions, you should include that into your search too.