Pediatric occupational therapy (OT) is a family-centered practice. Caregivers and practitioners are equal partners in providing your child with the support to allow them to develop and participate in life to their fullest potential. Occupational therapy doesn’t usually end with the completion of a weekly session. Occupational therapists often provide families with a home program to extend the benefits of OT throughout the week and achieve the best outcomes for the child. A home program can include upper body strengthening exercises, eye muscle strengthening exercises, or a sensory diet. Below are several ways OTs support caregivers to successfully incorporate a home exercise program into a busy schedule.
Collaborating and fostering a learning relationship with caregivers is central to the practice of OT and to a child’s progress towards their goals throughout their therapy. To support caregivers with follow through of a home exercise program, OTs and caregivers work together to develop the program. At each session, they review the program, identifying activities that engaged the child successfully and parts of the program that need to be adjusted. OTs often provide caregivers with feedback and coaching and, again working together, come up with creative adaptations for increased success of the home program. Evidence shows when a trusting relationship between a therapist and families are fostered, the child experiences better therapy outcomes (Harrison, Romer, Simon & Schulze, 2007).
Blending Therapy into Routines
Matching home program activities with existing family routines is another way OTs work with caregivers to help make implementing a home program easier. Identifying times of day to incorporate therapeutic activities into a daily schedule helps habituate “doing” OT at home. For example, building core strength and coordination by making it a habit for the child to jump like a frog whenever going to use the bathroom. Or giving a deep body massage before reading a goodnight story. By developing habits that incorporate the home program activities, follow through with a home program can become a fun addition to the daily routines that already exist at home.
Making It Fun!
Facilitating therapeutic activities for children is fun for both the child and an OT. There is an art and science, however, that goes into developing these activities and creating an environment that allows a child to feel successful and have fun during their therapy session. To help caregivers create a motivating atmosphere around their child’s home program, OTs and caregivers discuss specific tips and strategies to help the child. Strategies can include incorporating a favorite action character into the activity or singing a specific song to help with transitions.
Supporting Caregivers with Organization
Giving a caregiver a tangible format of their child’s program is another way OTs can help families be successful in taking occupational therapy home. For example, OTs can provide a “taking OT home” folder to help families keep their home program handouts organized. Having the child personalize their folder during their OT session strengthens the connection between working with their therapist and doing OT work at home. Printed visual and text instructions can be added each week to the home program folder. OTs may also provide an “I Did It!” tracker – a printed sheet can be posted in the home to help remind, motivate for and measure the completion of the home program activities. Each day the child can check off or put a sticker next to the activities they completed. Supporting a child and family through meeting their occupational therapy goals is challenging. It is an OT’s job to foster a collaborative relationship to provide families with the right support for follow through of a home program. Through consistent check-ins and discussing tips, strategies and adaptations with families, a home program can not only serve a child but can enhance the way families live life together. Taking Occupational Therapy Home Nina Otter, Occupational Therapy student from Winston Salem State University References: Harrison, C., Romer, T., Simon, M.C., & Schultze, C (2007). Factors influencing mother’s learning from pediatric therapists: A qualitative study. Physical and Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 27(2), 77-96.
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