Referrals come from teachers who are dealing with children who present some kind of difficulty at school. Occupational Therapists deal with children that have problems relating to visual perception, sensory integration, gross motor co ordination, fine motor co ordination, reading or writing.
The main reason for this is our modern world! In past generations, childhood was richer in physical activity, concrete games, exploration, imagination, and rough-and-tumble play. Today children seem to be less active and engage in more passive technological activities. This hampers their ability to focus on a task for any reasonable length of time.
Parents are constantly interrupted by phone calls, emails and SMSes – prioritising media over time spent with their children – and children mirror our lifestyle, spending long periods facing some screen, where they obtain immediate gratification, and avoid live interaction! Many children are therefore unable to develop a real sense of time or space, and often avoid physical activities. Physical difficulties arise, including postural difficulties, balance problems, visual weakness, and a general lack of awareness of one’s body in space.
Parents have a crucial role in their children’s learning by assisting them in transferring the skills they learn at school into functional tasks in the home, e.g. baking, incorporates sequencing of tasks, literacy, numeracy, weight, temperature, measurement, and a sense of time as they await their end product. Fun activities include walking on their hands, walking like animals, pillow fights, board games, drawing pictures/letters in the sand, and reading books together. Start today!
Concentration difficulties: Many children can sit and focus on video games or movies for long periods, but battle to sit still in the classroom because they don’t have a sound sense of time to develop endurance.
Train your child to perform tasks for a set time before doing something else. Increasing time spent on tasks – develops endurance. Help children realise how time passes. Use calendars, egg timers, clocks on the wall, etc. Break time down into manageable periods and children will understand the reason for time limits for tasks – and will develop work speed!
Organisational skills: Many children battle to plan a simple 3-4 step task. Give your child the opportunity to plan their activities, like making a bed or sandwich, getting clothes ready for the next day, packing school bags, etc. They will become more independent. The time before school must be organised and not rushed.
Balance time spent on technology (short periods) – with concrete and physical activities, social interaction, and emotional and spiritual development. Incorporate different learning styles into activities: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (touch and movement) – to vary learning skills. Do things together: eat, cook and bake, wash the car or dog; go for a walk/run/bike ride; have picnics, etc. Remember, a child’s occupation is to PLAY!
A change in lifestyle is needed in order to focus more on our children, making the most of our limited time. We are blessed and privileged to be parents – Enjoy it!
Claire Barrett – Occupational Therapist