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Occupational therapy helps people develop or recover the skills needed to lead independent, satisfying lives. The “occupation” in occupational therapy does not refer to one’s profession. Rather, it refers to the everyday activities that give life meaning.
For a child, these meaningful activities include playing and learning. Pediatric occupational therapy focuses on improving the child’s ability to play and learn, which are important for development and becoming independent.
For children with cerebral palsy, occupational therapy can help with muscle and joint coordination issues — issues that can make everyday tasks difficult. Some of these tasks include eating, brushing teeth and bathing. Occupational therapy can help to improve physical, cognitive and social abilities, as well as fine motor skills and posture. This therapy can also help address difficulties with processing sensory information.
Occupational therapy is beneficial for children with cerebral palsy in many ways.
Occupational therapy can help children by:
Parents and caregivers spend a lot of time helping children with cerebral palsy perform basic day-to-day activities. As the child begins to see the benefits of occupational therapy, the parents and caregivers do, too.
For parents and caregivers, occupational therapy helps by:
Each type of cerebral palsy presents different symptoms that may hinder a child’s ability to live independently and complete daily activities.
Occupational therapy can help with the following issues related to each type of CP:
As with physical therapy and speech therapy, occupational therapy is different for every child with cerebral palsy. Each child’s occupational therapy treatment plan is highly individualized and tailored to their individual physical, intellectual and social-emotional abilities.
During your child’s first therapy session, the occupational therapist will perform a complete evaluation. This includes testing the child’s fine motor, perceptual and oral-motor development, and observing how the child responds to touch and movement. The occupational therapist will also interview the parent to find out about the child’s strengths and weaknesses when performing daily activities, as well as pinpoint the specific goals for the child to work toward.
Most children with cerebral palsy need to be reevaluated every six to nine months. After these evaluations, the occupational therapist will tweak the treatment plan accordingly based on progress and change.
Occupational therapy involves using functional activities to progressively improve functional performance. Occupational therapy exercises focus on the following skill areas:
Occupational therapists use specific techniques to help children reach their goals, including:
Many different tools and assistive devices are used in occupational therapy. Equipment can range from common household items to high-tech assistive technologies.
Occupational therapy helps people of all ages. For children with cerebral palsy, treatment will be based on the child’s physical, intellectual, social and language abilities, as well as their age.
Occupational therapists are licensed healthcare professionals. Finding an occupational therapist who has experience working with cerebral palsy patients is very important to ensure your child gets the best treatment possible.
If you need help finding an occupational therapists, ask your child’s pediatrician if they have any recommendations. Occupational, physical and speech therapists often work together to create comprehensive treatment plans. If your child is seeing a physical or speech therapist, they may be able to connect you with an occupational therapist.
To learn more about how to locate an occupational therapist, try downloading our free Cerebral Palsy Guide, which includes over 60 pages of in-depth information for children and parents of a child with CP.
Kimberlee is a writer and researcher who is passionate about helping children with disabilities enjoy a happy, healthy life. She works closely with our attorneys to create content that educates the families and caretakers of children with cerebral palsy.