Does your pre-schooler need to see an occupational therapist? 

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Writing this blog post was quite difficult as I could talk about pre-school all day! It is my favourite environment to work in and such a special time in a child’s life. I love the playfulness, the constant chatter and noise and how these tiny people are trying so hard to prove that they can do big kid stuff.  However, pre-school can often be the first time a child experiences comparison in their life. It may be the first time they are compared to other children or compared against a norm which dictates what is age appropriate if they are meeting their milestones or are school ready. It can be overwhelming for the child, but even more so for the parent. There can be constant questioning, is my child doing this correctly, is this age appropriate, how do I even know if something isn’t right, am I doing enough? 

Sometimes, a preschool teacher may suggest you engage with an occupational therapist, or you may hear other parents start to seek out occupational therapy services or you may even see them bouncing around after children at preschool. But what is a paediatric occupational therapist or OT, how do you know when you may need to seek out their services?  

Welcome, Stepping Stones are here to help! Also, to answer one of your additional questions, a question previously mentioned that I know you ask yourself; yes if you have found yourself on this blog, it seems to me like you are doing enough for your child, and they are very lucky to have you as their parent.

  

What’s an OT? 

OT’s are interested in supporting your child to participate fully in their life and to develop their independence skills. We look at everything your child does in their day, from the moment they wake until they fall asleep. Paediatric OT’s can provide support within the home, pre-school, school, and community.  

Here at Stepping Stones, we support children to work towards independence in a range of daily activities, including but not limited to dressing, toileting, picky eating, fluent gross motor movements, emotional regulation (I.e.: managing our own behaviour), fine motor skills like handwriting and processing sensory input from their environment.  

For some, the word “therapist” can feel icky, as it implies that something is wrong. This is never the case and is especially not for pre-school aged children. I like to consider OTs for pre-school children as the “up-skill professionals”, we evaluate the skills your child has and what they are yet to learn to ensure that they achieve and bridge the gap accordingly through skill development, so that they achieve their full potential.  

There is so much to learn when you are in preschool, and it all happens so fast. It is a period of such rapid growth and these little people really start to find who they are and begin to give you insight into what they might be like in the future. It is understandable, when you look at all the changes that happen month by month that some kids may need additional support or that some may slip behind their peers.  

Paediatric OT’s support parents to identify areas for improvement as early as possible. Often, without additional supports, a child who is experiencing difficulties will continue to slip behind their peers. Without support, this can have a detrimental impact on a child’s confidence, emotional and cognitive development, academic success, and gross motor coordination as they grow. Interventions provided by paediatric OTs will be individualised to meet your child’s specific needs, but also include your family values and priorities.  

When should I consider seeing an OT? 

Here are some important questions you can ask yourself to determine whether your child may need to have an assessment by an OT: 

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  • Does your child have difficulties with typical day to day activities?  
  • Is your child experiencing difficulties with toileting? 
  • Does your child have a diagnosis? Is this impacting their daily function in anyway? 
  • Does your child appear to be off in their own little world and miss important instructions? 
  • Does your child appear to have more difficulties than other children in a range of environments such as preschool, the playground or at mealtimes? 
  • Does your child have difficulty sustaining attention to a non-preferred task for greater than 5 minutes? 
  • Does your child hop from one activity to the next, without finishing anything? 
  • Does your child avoid drawing, colouring-in or craft activies?  
  • Are meltdowns happening daily or multiple times a day and is it taking longer than 10 minutes to soothe your child? 
  • Do they have trouble making friends at preschool or are the social skills they are displaying inappropriate? 
  • Does your child have sensory aversions which can lead to meltdowns or for them to avoid tasks they will enjoy or miss time engaging with their peers?  
  • Do you find mealtimes stressful and is your child a picky eater?  

If you answered yes to any number of these questions or your child requires assistance to complete these tasks successfully, it may be beneficial to have an assessment with a paediatric OT.  

Additionally, if your child is in the last year of their preschool journey, it is important to consider whether they have the skills necessary for school. Prior to attending school, children should be gaining independence in toileting, holding a pencil in an age-appropriate tripod grasp, drawing a range of shapes (circles, squares, triangles, and lines), cutting out lines or circle objects, catching and throwing, and opening their lunchbox and initiating eating as required, just to name a few! An OT can support your child to be successful with these. I urge you not to wait until your child is in school to intervene but act now so that they can begin their kindergarten year confident and set-up for success within their new “big school” environment.  

If your child already has a medical condition or a diagnosis, an assessment by an OT may be beneficial to identify if they need any additional supports.  

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If you are still not sure if your child needs an OT, that is okay! Please feel free to contact our admin team and arrange a chat with an OT or book an assessment. Here at Stepping Stones we will not encourage your child to continue on with OT if there is no need indicated by our standardised assessment process. If your child appears to be achieving their developmental milestones, demonstrating age-appropriate social skills, is school ready and there are no functional goals, we will let you know that you do not need us! 

How do I arrange an appointment? 

If you would like to contact our lovely admin team on 4951 2116, they will be able to arrange an appointment at a suitable time for you.  

We can offer pre-school, home, or clinic sessions; however, we will not know what is most appropriate for your child until we have completed our comprehensive assessment process which will take place in either our Toronto, Mereweather or Charlestown clinics. 

What does that mean for my child? Does this mean they will get a diagnosis? 

No! It is not within an OT’s scope of practice to diagnose your child with a medical or developmental condition. An OT will, however, conduct assessments to examine your child’s functional skills and then establish goals with the family. The goals will be used to measure improvement and direct intervention.  

If required, an OT will ask parents to consider an assessment by a clinical psychologist or a paediatrician to determine whether there are any underlying causes for the difficulties the child is experiencing. This will only be suggested if necessary for the health, wellbeing, and ongoing development of your child and still does not mean your child will require a diagnosis.  

 For some children, early intervention and ongoing support can avoid a diagnosis. For other children, a diagnosis can be the key to gaining ongoing support not only for the child themselves but the whole family unit. Your beautiful and unique child was your child before the diagnosis and will continue being your beautiful and unique child after the diagnosis. It will just mean they will have access to the supports that they require to achieve their full potential in whatever they decide to do both now and into the future.   

How do I finance my appointments? 

Occupational therapy is an allied health intervention which can be claimed through private health funds, dependent upon your level of cover. It is good to check in with your private health service to determine how much they will cover and what the gap will be prior to attending your child’s appointments.  

Your child may be eligible through the Medicate Enhanced Care Plan, where you can claim a small proportion of the appointment cost through Medicare. If you think this may be suitable for you, check in with your regular GP.  

What’s Early Intervention funding? 

Early intervention funding is a scheme offered through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This is an avenue OTs may encourage you to consider if it appears your child may require ongoing intervention and they may benefit from the input of several health professionals (for example, a speech pathologist, dietician or clinical psychologist).  

If you require support with obtaining Early Intervention Funding, it is best to contact your local NDIS branch or visits their website at: Do you need early intervention? | NDIS 

References: 

Australian Government, Learning Potential (2020). Is my child ready for big school? Is your child ready for big school? | Learning Potential.  

Jasmin, E., Gauthier, A., Julien, M. et al. Occupational Therapy in Preschools: A Synthesis of  

Current Knowledge. Early Childhood Educ J 46, 73–82 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-017-0840-3 

Raising Children, (2002). Occupational therapist: family guide | Raising Children Network 

Kid Sense. (2022). School Readiness – Kid Sense Child Development 

Author: Bronte Ellicott

Paediatric Occupational Therapist

Editor: Michelle Newby  BHSc(OT) MSc PhD Candidate

Paediatric Occupational Therapist

Copyright Stepping Stones Therapy for Children 2022/23


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