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Occupational Therapy For Babies: Does My Baby Need An OT?

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Learning and development are important occupations for a baby. These skills are important as they improve their independence while enhancing their ability to do daily life activities with ease.

Unfortunately, some babies have developmental and sensory disorders that prevent them from developing these skills at a normal pace. Too much delay in skill development can stop them from carrying out daily life activities and learning new skills.

However, with occupational therapy, babies with learning, developmental and sensory issues can effectively learn skills so they can reduce the impact of developmental delays.

A pediatric occupational therapist can help your little one to perform activities at school, home, or play through a holistic approach. Occupational therapy teaches them to adapt to their surroundings and react or do activities accordingly.

From schoolwork and self-care to completion of different household chores and engaging in activities, occupational therapy trains your child on how to learn and engage in new skills.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Happy baby playing on carpet

Occupational therapy is a healthcare practice that helps individuals, especially children with sensory, cognitive, or physical disabilities to gain more independence in their daily lives.

For babies, this helps in their motor, sensory and cognitive development. For example, skills like holding objects, playing with toys, building concentration, and supporting their sitting posture can be developed using occupational therapy. Occupational therapy primarily aims to teach babies and children all the skills they need to explore the world around them.

Health professionals who deal with developmental, learning, and sensory issues and treat children through games and daily activities are known as occupational therapists. Occupational therapist who work specifically with children are called pediatric occupational therapits (pediatric meaning children).

These professionals help your kiddo to adopt skills required to get their daily work done, play with friends, take care of themselves, improve their academic performance and stay active.

Occupational therapists are trained professionals who deal with physical, developmental, sensory, and cognitive issues by modifying body movements, using sensory tools, and other occupational therapy methods.

At first, they assess your baby’s needs and then learn about their daily activities to see what changes they need for typical development. They might advise getting your child an assistive device to do daily chores better.

Next, they will provide you with a therapy plan and set goals customized according to your little one’s difficulties, needs, preferences, and limits. An occupational therapist trains your child to modify their movements, improve their motor skills along with their hand-eye coordination or do activities in new, innovative ways.

How Do I Know If My Baby Needs Occupational Therapy? 

Mother playing with baby in bed

From birth, children get engaged in daily occupations or activities like eating, sleeping, playing, crawling, and walking. These activities build their skillset and prepare them for more complex activities that they will engage in as they grow up.

However, some children have trouble grasping these skills and thus, struggle to explore their own environment and connect with the world. These babies or children might experience issues with their cognitive skills, fine and gross motor skills, visual perceptual skills, sensory processing, and so on. In such cases, occupational therapy can help them to deal with their disabilities and help them achieve their goals.

Developmental Milestones

Baby girl playing with sand and shovels outdoors

Every baby is different and develops skills not according to the calendar but with their ability. However, medical science has established certain developmental milestones according to the activities most kids can do and accomplish by a certain age.

If a child struggles to meet those milestones, they might need occupational therapy. Here are the guidelines of what babies should be able to do according to their age.

2 Months – At this age, most infants start smiling at people. They can now look at their mum, calm themselves, gurgle, and move their heads towards sounds. They also start to follow things with their vision and can move with their arms, legs, and head smoother than before.

4 Months – As babies grow, they can smile spontaneously at people. In this phase, they start playing with people and give frowning expressions. Now, they can hold their head steady and rollover. A 4-month-old baby can bring their hand to their mouth. They often lie on their stomach and try to push on their elbows.

6 Months – A 6-month-old baby knows familiar faces and starts responding to their names. They look at themselves in mirrors and utter vowels while babbling. They can now hold things and bring them to their mouth. As their heads and necks are stronger than before, they can now sit with support and roll over with ease.

9 Months – 9-month-old babies can differentiate between known people and strangers. They have their favorite toys and learn how to put things in their mouths. They can now play peek-a-boo. They have developed a clear vision and can watch something as it falls. They can crawl and stand on their own while taking the support.

1 Year – A 1-year-old kid develops a feeling of fear and they shy away from strangers. While dressing, they can now put out their legs and arms. They can make sounds like ‘mama’ or ‘dada’. They can even respond to requests. They start drinking from a sippy cup. Now, they can stand without any support and start walking a few steps alone. They develop a sense of curiosity and thus, explore objects by banging and shaking them.

 What Does an Occupational Therapist Do for A Baby? 

Father playing with baby

Occupational therapy is a specialized health care branch that helps your child achieve independence in their day-to-day activities. An occupational therapist is a well-trained professional who knows how to deal with your child’s sensory, physical and cognitive issues.

They help babies, toddlers, and older kids to deal with their difficulties and disabilities through simple yet essential routines and activities. They ensure that your child develops refined motor, sensory, academic, cognitive, and social skills effectively. They help your baby’s development to ensure they have the functional skills needed when they are a young child and older.

For example, if your child has learning difficulties, an occupational therapist would use sensory integration to help them develop skills that impact their learning. There are several ways an occupational therapist can assist your child to lead a smoother and better life.

Helping with Sensory Issues

If your child is hypersensitive, an occupational therapist would suggest things like special seating in a sensory room, designed to avoid sensory overload. To help babies achieve an optimal level of sensory regulation, an OT suggests movement activities like sitting on bean bags or other sensory chairs, jumping on the trampoline, and so on.

These professionals design activities and sessions according to your child’s sensory needs and plan sensory breaks for their sensory stimulation. They make use of a wide variety of tools and techniques like fidgets, sensory toys, sensory chairs, and chewable jewelry to provide calming input and improve their focus.

Occupational therapists also help children with hyposensitivity to develop skills to adapt to the surrounding world. They make use of different tools and techniques that improve their social and communication skills. Babies with hypo- or under-sensitivity seek external sensory inputs while doing their day-to-day activities. After assessing their difficulties and needs, an OT provides an actionable plan that can improve their conditions.

Helping with Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are abilities that let us participate in activities that involve large muscle groups. When these important skills are difficult to hone, your kiddo might struggle to do basic activities that involve balance, strength, coordination, and endurance. This might impact the basic activities like walking, running, holding, jumping, catching, and so on. Such deficits can keep your little one from participating in school activities, sports, and recess. In the long run, it might affect their self-esteem along with their social skills.

Occupational therapists suggest various activities like throwing and catching balls of different weights and sizes to improve your child’s strength. They also help your kid to develop balance and coordination through obstacle courses. When needed, OTs work along with physical therapists to build strength and endurance. As low muscle tone and core body strength play an important role in developing gross motor skills, OTs introduce different techniques and therapies like crab walking, bouncing on a therapy ball, rolling, etc. to address those deficits.

Helping With Fine Motor Skills 

Fine motor skills refer to the abilities that let us participate in activities that involve small muscle groups. Children who struggle to draw, use scissors, or string beads have fine motor skills issues.

Lack of strength, dexterity, and motor control mostly hampers the development of fine motor skills. If not addressed on time, such delays might make your child’s academics harder. With this condition, your child might find it difficult to write, draw, turn pages, use pencils, and so on. Fine motor skills play an important role in the development of self-help skills like zipping, buttoning, brushing, eating, and so on.

Occupational therapists employ different fun techniques to assist your kiddo to develop fine motor skills. For example, they suggest pen and crayon activities develop dexterity, control and pencil grasp, key for holding writing tools, spoon, and fork. Other activities like popping bubbles also improve their hold along with hand-eye coordination.

Simple activities like transferring objects from one side to another or manipulating small objects can also help your baby develop their fine motor skills. OTs design an activity planner according to your child’s needs and interests to enhance their hand and finger strength and dexterity.

Summary

If it seems like your baby has any problem in physical, sensory, or cognitive areas, it is better to have an occupational therapist address the same. An experienced and trained OT can help your kiddo develop age-appropriate skills. An OT creates a treatment plan by assessing your child’s disabilities and requirements. With the right therapy, your child can explore the world around them and learn essential life skills to lead a more independent life.

Resources

4 Signs Your Child Needs Pediatric Occupational Therapy. (2021). Retrieved 15 December 2021, from https://littlestepspt.com/occupational-therapy/4-signs-your-child-might-need-pediatric-occupational-therapy/

Whatโ€™s Occupational Therapy? Make Work or Play Easier to Do. (2021). Retrieved 15 December 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/occupational-rehab

Signs That Your Baby Needs Occupational Therapy: Little Wonders Pediatric Therapy: Occupational Therapists. (2021). Retrieved 15 December 2021, from https://www.littlewonderstherapy.com/blog/signs-that-your-baby-needs-occupational-therapy

Does My Baby Need Occupational Therapy? Kids Creek Therapy. (2021). Retrieved 15 December 2021, from https://www.kidscreektherapy.com/does-my-baby-need-occupational-therapy/

Occupational Therapists: What Do They Do? – Child Mind Institute. (2021). Retrieved 15 December 2021, from https://childmind.org/article/occupational-therapists-what-do-they-do/

What does an occupational therapist do for a child ?. (2021). Retrieved 15 December 2021, from https://kidskintha.com/what-does-an-occupational-therapist-do-for-a-child/

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