When you have a child who receives the help of an Occupational Therapist, there are some things you can do to ensure your child’s success. Success is when your child makes progress towards the goals outlined in your therapy program. When a child has a parent who helps with the process, the child has a much greater chance to master his goals, and in turn, function better in life. Here are some top tips from experienced parents and therapists:
1 – Ask for Homework A prescient therapist once told me, “I am not going to be the one to teach your child (a particular skill), you are.” This statement scared me when I first heard it, but now I understand why she said it. Your child may have one, or maybe two, 1-hour sessions of occupational therapy per week. That’s great, but it’s not enough to truly help your child progress. Every session, ASK your child’s therapist what you can be working on at home this week. Write it down. You have so much more time with your child than the therapist does.
2 – Do the Homework Once you have a skill to practice, be sure to do it! We are all busy; schedule time if you must. You don’t have to act like your child’s therapist, you are their parent. But reinforcement and practice at home is truly a key to success.
3 – Attend and Watch Every Session Occasionally parents think that a therapy session is like babysitting, and they disappear to run errands, return phone calls, take a break, etc. I strongly encourage you to watch and listen to what happens at each session. Use a notebook and jot down the date, what was done, whether your child liked or disliked, etc. Sometimes our therapist used a board game to work on a skill; if my child liked it, I could refer back to my notes and order it later for her birthday or Christmas. Another benefit is that as time passes, you will be able to look back and see how far your child has progressed.
4 – Be Prepared The time to get ready is before the session, whether you have in-home therapy or in a clinic. Have your child wear comfortable play clothes and remember that some activities can be messy. Make sure your child is rested and fed, but not full from having just eaten. If you need to supervise another child during the session, try to get things ready that will occupy and entertain that child. Allow the therapist to focus on the child receiving therapy.
5 – Have the Right Attitude Special-needs children need lots of encouragement and praise. However, do not confuse encouragement with helping your child do things that are hard. Sometimes, a child needs to learn to struggle and possibly fail at a skill in order to eventually master it. As parents, our natural instinct is to jump in and help. What’s truly best, though, is for your child to learn to do it themselves. Ask your therapist for guidance when in doubt.
Supporting your child’s therapy program isn’t difficult, but it does take a bit of time and consistency. Eventually, the benefit to your child will be a great reward!