How do I know when my child needs an occupational therapy evaluation?

There are several risk signs that indicate that a child may need evaluation from an occupational therapist. For instance, if your child is experiencing difficulty acquiring age-appropriate fine and/or gross motor skills, playing with other children, and handling transitions, he/she may be experiencing sensory integration difficulties. Experiencing difficulty with handwriting can be another sign. If you are concerned that your child’s behaviors or tendencies may have a sensory or motor basis, contact an occupational therapist to determine whether an evaluation is necessary.

What is sensory integration? How do you evaluate it?

The term sensory integration refers to the neurological process of taking in sensory information through the body and organizing this information to be able to respond in a functional way to the demands of the environment, home, school, and community settings. For example, a child reaches to catch a ball that is tossed to him, or brushes away a bug that she feels land on her arm. This is called an adaptive response. It is an unconscious process that occurs every day. A child’s sensory integrative abilities are evaluated by standardized evaluations, clinical observations, and a parental and/or teacher report.  Red flags in a child’s development may include: inflexibility to changes in routines, constant movement which interferes with daily routines, sensitivity to various textures, clothing, finger paint, falls frequently, difficulty maintaining self on a chair, lack of exploration in the environment during play, low endurance/fatigue during activities.

How do I know my child needs occupational therapy (OT) to improve handwriting skills?

Signs that a child may need OT may include difficulty recognizing or forming his or her manuscript or cursive alphabet, complaining that handwriting tires them easily, or they may have difficulty sitting for a handwriting task.  Sometimes a parent or teacher may notice a child’s pencil grasp is immature or that a child has difficulty sitting in their seat.

What are some activities to help a child strengthen one of the following handwriting components?

There are both sensory and neuromuscular activities that can help children improve their handwriting.  Some sensory activities may include shaving cream play, painting, or chalk activities. Neuromuscular activities will include animal or wheelbarrow walks, Play-Doh play, climbing tasks, puzzle play, coloring tasks, Lego play, Perfection, and/or Operation games.