Saturday, August 9, 2008

Occupational Therapy for All!

Come on, admit it! You read occupational therapy and you thought it had something to do with career counseling, right? Me, too. I think I met an “OT” once and wondered how in the world you get into that line of work…getting paid to help other people figure out what they want to do? But, that was long before Wylie was born. OT became a part of our lives when Wylie started school in the county program. Our referring school psychologist recommended Wylie’s evaluation for services. Thus began Wylie’s happy association with many wonderful OTs and his weekly visits to “The Sensory Center”.

Imagine a room filled with really cool toys, scooters, balls, balance beams, zip lines, swings, trampolines, games, a ball pit and bean bags! Imagine you have to go to this place once a week, take off your shoes, and play! This is the world of the OT. Only, the play they supervise is play with a purpose. The activities they engage in with students are specifically geared to help develop and strengthen physical and mental skills. It is a world of wonder for kids. Of course, once they arrive they never want to leave! This has always been true of Wylie’s experience.
Over the years we have seen marked improvement in Wylie’s fine and gross motor skills as a direct result of therapy. He can cut along a straight line, write with much improved control (though his penmanship is still a weak area), maintain balance, cross over midline to play catch and swim. Wylie’s core muscle strength has improved and he has learned to cope with some of his more extreme sensory issues (taste, smell, and tactile).

Not every Asperger child struggles with motor skill issues. However, if you were to randomly examine OT centers across the country you would more than likely find kids with autism spectrum disorders as regulars on the roster. I have not read all the research (and I’m sure there is plenty out there), but it appears that kids like Wylie have sensory issues that inhibit the development of their gross and fine motor skills. So, for example, things like throwing and catching a ball, walking across a balance beam, swinging a bat, jumping up and down on one foot, descending down stairs, using scissors, jumping rope and other regular physical activities can be difficult for Asperger types. These normal activities are not unimportant! The connection between motor skill development and academic performance and emotional behavior is well documented.

From OTs I have learned how to engage Wylie in physical sensory activities that help him to “organize”--which facilitates readiness to sit still, pay attention, write, compute, or do whatever else might be necessary in the classroom. Want to sign your child up?

Actually, from what I’ve observed of this wonderful group of amazing professionals, I don’t think there is a person on the planet that would not benefit from some form of occupational therapy! Maybe we should write our congressmen and women and allocate some of our tax dollars to underwrite a Sensory center in Washington D.C.--just outside the Capitol building. That way, before members of Congress meet together to vote on legislation and other things that affect us, they can all participate in some good old-fashioned therapy to get “organized” and better pay attention to the tasks at hand!

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