Parents might wonder if some of the emotional stress they sometimes observe in their toddler is due to an underlying developmental or sensory issue that could be remediated with occupational therapy. The goal of pediatric occupational therapy is to help a child develop the skills they need to accomplish the activities that are typical for their age. Certainly if a child is overwhelmed or feels inadequate in the face of day to day activities this can underlie or contribute to emotional distress. So it is important to determine if there are underlying developmental differences at play.
It is always wise for a parent to trust their gut instinct if they suspect causal factors beyond those typical in childhood development. For instance, we have all heard of the “terrible twos” when a toddler is striving for independence but still needs a great deal of help – leading sometimes to tantrums and “misbehavior”. That being said, if a Mom or Dad senses that there could be something more going on, then it would be a good idea to talk to their pediatrician or contact an occupational therapist or child psychologist for a full evaluation.
An occupational therapy evaluation determines the child’s level of performance in critical developmental areas. This process includes observation and interaction with the child, discussion and review of case history and a sensory profile with the family, as well as standardized assessments. Fine motor, visual-spatial, balance, and coordination skills as well as sensory functioning are assessed to determine how these foundational abilities impact day to day functioning with self-help, play, and social interactions. Occupational therapists (also known as OTs) must identify treatment needs based on evaluation. Obviously if a child has difficulty with sensory processing, balance, coordination and/or fine motor skills, this can lead to frustration. However, if a child exhibits no disorder that is treatable within an OT’s scope of practice, then treatment would not be recommended. If, as a result of evaluation, occupational therapy is not deemed appropriate, an occupational therapist may recommend a different kind of intervention based on their professional opinion. For instance the OT may think a child’s frustration may be the result of difficulty with speech production or comprehension and recommend a speech/language evaluation. Or if there seems to be a more emotional base to the frustration, the occupational therapist may recommend an evaluation with a child psychologist. On the other hand, it may be determined that a particular child just needs more attention or structure at home with the recommendation to revisit the concerns if the emotional distress doesn’t resolve within a few months.
Check out our developmental screener. Complete this for your child and a speech language pathologist or occupational therapist will contact you regarding the results, at no charge.
For additional information about how sensory challenges can impact behavior, visit http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776488/.