The primary goal in all of our therapy is to help your child overcome areas that might be getting in the way of this development. Our Occupational Therapy sessions often address areas of self-help skills, social interactions, attention deficits, and overall difficulties that children have interacting with the world around them.
As parents, we slowly learn that, in most cases, when our children are ill there is little we can do other than wait for the illness to run its course. This is specifically true when a child has a viral infection. While this is true of illnesses, it is not necessarily true of slowly developing speech, language, fine motor, gross motor or sensory issues. What is true is that there is a wide range of normal and that even though a child might demonstrate development that lags behind siblings or peers this does not necessarily equate to it being pathological. There are, however, expected norms in all areas of speech, language and motor development. Should a child’s development be stagnating, the effects, while not emergent, can be significant academically, socially, emotionally and in some cases medically. The biggest indicator as to whether an evaluation is warranted in any of these disciplines, despite what your pediatrician might say, is if your child is displaying signs of avoidance or frustration in his or her ability to communicate or physically explore the world.
The diagnosis of speech and language delays and disorders is wide ranging. Some speech delays can be caused by specifically identified developmental maladies, such as cleft palates or Cerebral Palsy. In children with oral motor weakness, one factor that is often cited is extensive usage of a pacifier, sippy cup or thumb sucking all of which perpetuate infantile oral movements. Research on this is inconclusive, however our clinical experience suggests that this can factor into such areas of weakness. Chronic ear infections and upper respiratory infections are also thought to contribute to oral motor weakness. In many cases however, the root cause of a disorder is difficult to determine.
A speech-language pathologist is the appropriately trained healthcare professional that is approved to diagnose and treat speech, language and feeding delays and disorders. A learning specialist might also address some language based areas, however, the focus of their work and their level of training can vary greatly. For example, a speech-language pathologist may address reading comprehension issues when the issue is one of vocabulary, determining the main idea, identifying and remembering specific details and understanding linguistic concepts. A learning specialist can often address a wider range of educational issues, but with less specific training and expertise in language development. In most cases, a learning specialist has a background in education and often holds an advanced degree in one area or another. There are cases where an issue might be appropriately addressed by either professional, while other situations may call for collaboration between these two aligned areas.
Many people are confused with the term Occupational Therapy and how it relates to children. While your child might not have an occupation in the same sense as you or your spouse, your child’s day is most certainly ‘occupied’ with the educational tasks that allow them to grow into successful and happy adults.
Sensory Integration is one of the key components to learning and development in children. The ability to feel, understand, and organize all of the information collected by our senses, both from inside the body and from the environment, allows us to proceed through our day to day activities with curiousity and confidence. Many children display hyper or hypo sensitivities of one kind of another which can result in atypical reactions, for example, the very common discomfort of clothing tags. The presence of such sensitivities in and of themselves is not necessarily indicative of a sensory integration issue. It is when a child’s responses to sensory input (be it touch, smell, vision, taste, hearing, joint or movement sense) prevent them from confidently engaging with the world around them, that sensory integration therapy would be recommended to help them overcome their discomforts.
Everyone has a different sensory make-up. When a child’s sensory make-up falls outside the expected norm, it can interfere with his/her development and it is unlikely that it will resolve on its own. More likely, left untreated, these sensory difficulties can lead to more pronounced trouble as the child ages. Early identification and treatment through Occupational Therapy can help children better understand and take control of managing their unique sensitivities.
In general, therapy is warranted in any case where a child’s skill level is outside the commonly recognized, wide range of normal – especially if the child, parent, or teacher has concerns. The barometers used by school systems and early intervention programs are structured to ensure that the limited amount of federally funded resources are channeled to children with the greatest needs. However, even children with less significant issues will see marked improvements in their communication, coordination, and self-esteem, by entering into speech language or occupational therapy.
In most cases, therapy is recommended twice a week for 45 minutes. By attending multiple sessions each week exercises and homework can be regularly adjusted, thereby enabling the process to move as quickly as possible. Also, with so many activities and interests competing for our children’s attention, it is difficult to dedicate the appropriate and effective amount of time outside of the therapeutic environment to a child’s OT, speech and language needs. In the case of oral motor therapy, it is similar to any other set of muscles in our body. For example, if we want a solid set of abdominal muscles we must work them out multiple times a week. To help carve out the requisite time to do so, we go to the gym every other day.
There is no easy answer to this question. Every child is different as is every therapeutic situation. If a parent can practice given homework on a nightly basis the duration of therapy can be greatly reduced. Rest assured that you will be continually informed of how your child is progressing and we will do everything in our power to move your child in and out of therapy as quickly as possible.
Every health insurance policy is different so it is impossible to give a definitive answer to this question. If a policy has speech or occupational therapy benefits, the initial evaluation will most likely be covered. After this, coverage often depends upon the level of benefits your employer has purchased. Often insurance companies define covered speech therapy as needing to be “restorative in nature.” This means that a person has had speech function and has had an accident or illness that has resulted in the loss of such function. In these cases, speech therapy is provided to “restore” the function back to where it had been prior to the accident or illness. This language is used to focus insurance coverage on issues such as strokes and some very specific medically defined conditions such as Cerebral Palsy or cleft palate issues. Many conditions associated with children, including Autistic Spectrum Disorders, are precluded from plans with this type of coverage. Coverage of occupational therapy tends to be very similar. We will be happy to assist you in determining if your insurance will cover therapy and we will do everything ethically possible to employ appropriate diagnosis that would allow for such coverage.