What is early intervention occupational therapy? Growing early minds

Friday, November 20, 2020

Raising a child is difficult on its own. Add on any developmental or physical disabilities and some parents may not know where to even begin. The good news is that experts are here to help, even at the earliest stages of your child's development.

Here, we're explaining early intervention in occupational therapy and how it can help infants, toddlers, and their families with developmental disabilities.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy helps enable those with disabilities to participate in everyday activities. Occupational therapists assist with motor skills, self-care, and other necessary skills required to perform daily routines.

Occupational therapy can help with:

  • Self-care activities like grooming and bathing
  • Occupational motor skills like writing and typing
  • Emotional management in playgroups and social settings
  • Home modifications such as the installation of ramps and railings
  • Sensory processing skills
  • Communication skills

What is early intervention occupational therapy?

Early intervention, in general, refers to a variety of therapy services provided during early development. These therapies might include speech therapy, psychology programs, occupational therapy, playgroup programs, and more.

Early intervention occupational therapy is occupational therapy that occurs during the first three years of life.

These early stages in a child's development are crucial, especially if a child is developmentally delayed, at risk of developing a disability, or are otherwise disabled.

In these cases, early intervention can make all the difference. With occupational therapy, the sooner treatment can begin, the better the outcomes.

The goal of early intervention is to increase the physical, cognitive, and emotional capacities of these children to protect them from risk factors in the environment or within their biology.

For example, early intervention occupational therapy can be completely transformative for children on the autism spectrum, those with conditions like Down's Syndrome, and even for children who have disabilities that are yet to be diagnosed.

Parents should consider early intervention if their child is failing to meet certain developmental milestones. In doing so, your child has the opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team of experts including an occupational therapist to help improve their quality of life.

What is early intervention occupational therapy?

How Does Early Intervention Occupational Therapy Work?

Early intervention occupational therapy, much like occupational therapy for adults, is totally customised to the individual.

As previously mentioned, occupational therapy helps improve motor, cognitive, sensory processing, communication, and play skills.

Since every child is different and experiences different difficulties, your child's occupational therapist will provide assistance based on their unique needs.

Not only will early intervention occupational therapy work with the child themselves, but also with the child's parents, family, and carers who will be heavily involved in the process.

So, how does the process of early invention occupational therapy actually work?

  • Set goals
  • Observe and examine
  • Create customised therapy program
  • Re-examine
  • Re-assess new goals
  • Repeat

First, your child's occupational therapist will define a goal or group of goals. These goals will be based on both the family's goals for the child and development milestones based on current research.

Usually, the main aim is to help your child participate in the activities they do every day independently.

Next, an occupational therapist will evaluate your child's current skill level by performing a series of tests and observations. By clearly confirming where your child's development is now, it'll make it possible to create a personalised therapy program to reach the chosen goals.

Then, a customised early intervention occupational therapy plan might consist of various focuses including:

  • Range of fine and gross motor skills and motor planning issues
  • Coordination
  • Posture
  • Sensory processing and visual processing needs
  • Low muscle tone

After a few weeks or months, an early intervention occupational therapist will re-examine your child to see if any progress has been made.

Both improvements and setbacks can be informative. With each examination, your child's developmental disabilities will become more and more obvious, helping the experts come up with better and better programs to help your child.

Occupational therapy, like other forms of therapy, is a cyclical process that requires some trial and error. Again, every child is unique and requires a personalised approach. It's this process of readjustment that will help early intervention to serve your child and family.

Examples of Early Intervention Occupational Therapy

Here is an example of early intervention occupational therapy at work from Ashley Opp at the American Occupational Therapy Association:

“For example, parents might be concerned that their child cannot pick up her food to finger feed. An occupational therapy practitioner can work with her family to identify times during the day that the child can practice isolating her index finger and grasping small things.

“Together, the practitioner and parents might develop strategies to adapt meal times with larger bits of food for easier grasping, opportunities to press buttons on the TV remote, and work on pointing to pictures during the bedtime story routine at night. Incorporating therapy into regular occupations is a central tenet of occupational therapy.”

Early intervention occupational therapy can also help your child manage difficulties that might otherwise impact their learning abilities. This might include:

  • Independent dressing
  • Preparation for childcare, prep, or kindy
  • Participation in sport and recreational activities in the community
  • Development of social and emotional skills

To accomplish the goals of occupational therapy, some early intervention services include:

  • Trail runs of wheelchairs, hearing aids, specialised utensils, and practise exercises
  • Home modifications such as ramps, rails, and other adaptive equipment

Family Roles in Early Intervention Occupational Therapy

With early intervention occupational therapy, the role of the family, siblings, and other carers is massive. Since the children undergoing therapy are under three, the responsibility for their treatments lies almost wholly in the adults.

However, this is somewhat true of regular occupational therapy as well. Those who live and work with the disabled individual is often heavily involved in the process.

Early intervention occupational therapy practitioners encourage the parent-child relationship in every way. In fact, this form of therapy actually centres on the family and a large part of the occupational therapist's role is to support the family and carers.

By tailoring occupational therapy services to the family, including siblings, grandparents, and others, the services are able to adapt to the larger family needs versus solely focusing on the child. After all, it'll be no use working with the child if the support at home isn't there.

Cost of Early Intervention Occupational Therapy

Most early intervention occupational therapy can be funded through your child's NDIA package under Improved Daily Living Skills. This includes therapy supports, assistive technology, and home modifications.

If your family is ineligible for NDIS funding, there are many other options including Medicare, private health, and more.


Other Useful Resources?

What is adaptive equipment for Occupational Therapy?
The role of an Occupational Therapist in hand therapy
7 key benefits of Occupational Therapy for the elderly
How can Occupational Therapy be used to treat dementia?
How can Occupational Therapy help a child with autism?
Fine motor activities for adults with Occupational Therapy
Occupational Therapy home assessments. What does it entail?  
The role of Occupational Therapy in stroke rehabilitation
Occupational Therapy role in physical disabilities & in the NDIS


Learn more about Physio Inq early intervention occupational therapy for your infant or toddler.
We'll connect you with one of our qualified occupational therapists to answer any of your questions or concerns. 

Contact Physio Inq today!


This article was originally written by Jonathan Moody from Physio Inq

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