Kim Lonsway is the occupational therapist at Jenny’s Clinic. Kim brings a degree in Psychology from the University of Arizona with a degree in Psychology and a degree in occupational therapy from the University of New Mexico. Kim has worked as an OT for 16 years with a broad range of ages – from toddlers to adolescents to early adults in their late teens and early 20s and with adults – in school and home settings. In this blog post, Kim helps us learn more about occupational therapy (OT) and what OT looks like at Jenny’s Clinic.
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy helps people with whatever they need to do to get through their day – whatever “occupies” their time – from play to self-care to life skills. For children, play occupies most of their time. For school-age kids, being able to write and read and function is a school environment occupies most of their time. For the older adult, it may be leisure activities.
I sometimes think of myself as a “Functional Therapist” who helps people learn skills needed to function throughout their day, at whatever stage they are in. We start with the basics of daily living activities – dressing, bathing, grooming, feeding – and build from there.
Younger children need to be able to play on their tummies to learn to crawl and to balance. They need to be able to use both hands together, use functional grasps, cross the midline of their body and more. In the school setting, kids need fine motor skills for academics – such as writing, cutting, taking caps off of markers, copying from the board, accessing the computer, and more.
At Jenny’s Clinic, our occupational therapy uses assessment and treatment to help kids develop the building blocks of skills they need to function, play, and be ready for learning.
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What is Sensory Processing Therapy?
Sensory processing is the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. You take in information through your senses – taste, touch, sound, vision, smell, and vestibular (movement and balance). Your brain takes in the information and produces an appropriate response. But when the sensory signals are either not sensed or not processed and organized in the right way, it is called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). With SPD, you can either have too much of a sensory response, or not enough and in varying degrees.
For children with SPD, Occupational Therapists practice Sensory Integration Therapy, which uses play activities designed to change how the brain reacts to touch, sound, sight and movement to address either overstimulation or understimulation. OTs identify strategies to block out excess sensory information, and/or provide more information to get their body ready to learn. OTs also help parents by making suggestions for accommodations and/or modifications to the child’s environment to help kids sort out the sensory information.
For young children, Sensory Integration Therapy looks like play. It could be introducing new textures of food and things to feel, such as play dough and sand. It could be giving kids sensory input such as spinning, swinging or crashing then giving them a task to do so they can be more functional after their bodies have the input it needs. We try many things in order to figure out what each individual body needs to be ready to learn and do functional tasks.
What might an OT session at Jenny’s look like?
We develop skills through play and stimulus. Here are examples of what you might see (depending on the child’s goals):
- Physical activity (for balance and coordination)
- Sensory input of swinging or deep pressure. This increases input to the body before we ask the child to practice a functional activity.
- Fine motor activity, such as stringing beads, learning how to manipulate clothing fasteners, or writing (which could be with pencil and paper, crayons, or with sensory input such as in shaving cream or sand)
- Visual motor tasks, such as puzzles or copying motor movements
When would a family come see an Occupational Therapist at Jenny’s?
Families should come for a free consultation or a full evaluation when they see these signs a child might need occupational therapy:
- Avoiding touch, either with people or textures such as play dough or sand
- Avoiding a texture of food when eating
- If they are seeking an extraordinary amount of stimulus input into their body by doing things like spinning, crashing into walls, banging their head, or rough-housing with family members.
How Can Occupational Therapy at Jenny’s Clinic help children?
Jenny’s Clinic specializes in therapy that helps children with developmental delays develop motor skills and sensory awareness. We help children build gross motor skills they need to organize large body movements (like running, jumping, hopping and sports); fine motor skills (needed to write, draw, cut with scissors or play music); and ocular motor skills (for vision and visual perception). We also help children develop awareness of their bodies and navigate the space between themselves and others and be able to control their reactions to stimulus.
How do you involve families in therapy?
At Jenny’s Clinic, we believe that each family and each child is unique. We tailor our services to your family’s and your child’s needs, and we can work with you every step of the way. As an OT at Jenny’s Clinic, I not only work directly with the child, but also with the family, parents, caregivers and teachers.
We provide families both a detailed assessment of what the child needs to function and a tailored plan for therapy to help the child become more functional. When you learn your child has developmental delays in fine motor, visual motor or sensory processing, Jenny’s provides the information you need and emotional support as you make the important decision to move forward with therapy. Once you start therapy, we help educate you and reinforce specific skills and behaviors to improve your child’s functioning.
All therapists at Jenny’s invite parents and grandparents into therapy sessions so they can see what is being done and what is working for their child. Therapists can then give suggestions for things that can be tried and worked on at home.
We also help by identifying changes in the things that may limit a child’s ability to do a task, including the environment, the task itself, or the child’s skills. Some of our intervention is making modifications and adaptations to the environment around the child and helping families integrate strategies into their daily routine.