Contributed By: Sarah Oarbeascoa MS, CCC-SLP
April is Occupational Therapy Month!
During the course of a pediatric speech-language evaluation or during therapy, the speech-language pathologist (SLP) may recommend that your child consult with an occupational therapist (OT). Even though SLPs address communication, often there is overlap in areas that SLPs and OTs treat. As therapists, we are often concerned with the “big picture” of your child’s overall development. When one system of development is impacted, it is likely there may be other systems impacted as well.
What is an Occupational Therapist?
Pediatric OTs support and promote the development and engagement of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and older children/adolescents in everyday routines. These routines include play, rest and sleep, activities of daily living (ADLs), education, and social participation. (Source: The American Occupational Therapy Association).
How could Occupational Therapy affect speech and language development?
- Postural Stability – Improving a child’s seated position may not only improve attention and safety, it may improve head and trunk stability. If your child’s head and trunk are stable, this will allow them to achieve increased jaw stability, which is critical for feeding and speech production. An OT can help provide tips on the type of chair or cushion that may help increase stability. In our office, you may see a Rifton chair or cushion as part of therapy, providing your child with trunk support.
- Attention and regulation – These skills are critical to pragmatic language skills. In order to be a successful communicator, a child must be able to focus, attend, and engage across a variety of environments and with peers.
- Sensory Processing – Sensory processing refers to the way your child’s nervous system receives information about the senses and then how they respond. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. An OT may address appropriate responses to sensation in a meaningful and functional manner. Speech pathologists often integrate sensory activities into treatment that have been suggested by the OT. Activities such as bouncing on a ball, fidget tools, providing a cushion to sit on, swings, movement breaks and adjusting the lighting in the room are just a few things that not only meet the sensory needs of the child, but also stimulate language. A wonderful resource for parents and one we have in our clinic library is “The Out-of-Sync Child” by Carol Kranowitz.
- Executive Function – Executive function includes both thinking skills (planning, organizing, and working memory) and behavior (emotional regulation, flexibility, sustained attention). OTs may address motor planning during their treatment sessions. Addressing motor planning may positively impact speech and language by increasing organizing, planning and sequencing skills; skills important for language.
- Written Language – OTs can assist how your child is able to express his or her thoughts on paper by addressing handwriting skills. OTs target not only handwriting and typing skills, but also organizing thoughts into graphic organizers which further improve narrative and story retelling skills.
It truly takes a village to raise ALL children. When it comes to kiddos who present with special areas of need parents, teachers, caregivers, other therapists, etc. all need to be in the communication loop. We LOVE the pediatric OT in our building, Carol King, OTR/L. Carol is the owner of Eastside Occupational Therapy. We collaborate and refer between clinics ALL of the time!!! Carol was actually the OT who diagnosed Amy Svensson’s daughter (Amy Svensson MA, CCC-SLP is the owner of our practice) with SPD and worked with her for close to 2 years where incredible progress was made! Amy’s daughter went from HATING slides, car rides, swings, & jeans to a confident spirit thanks to the help of OT in tandem with speech-language therapy. Check out Amy’s 3-part blog series on her family’s personal journey with SPD ~ enlightening.
I can’t stress enough that a team approach is essential!! Hopefully your child’s SLP has already communicated with you if he/she sees red flags for an OT referral, but if not and you want to look into further, talk with your child’s SLP to see if an OT referral is appropriate; even if just to get a screen done. These are often quick and free (Carol offers FREE 15 minute OT screens). If your child is already seeing an OT, hopefully the therapists are in communication with one another (make sure all HIPPA authorizations are signed). It is always a great idea to talk with your child’s therapists about how to incorporate skills and strategies learned in both therapies into the home to maximize therapy progress because often progress or lack-there-of in one will affect the other. Always remember that you are your child’s biggest advocate and VOICE!! Make sure the village is on the same page and willing and able to solve and put the pieces of the puzzle together … TOGETHER!!