If your child is getting ready to start clinic-based pediatric occupational therapy, you more than likely have a bunch of questions. Like, Is there anything I need to do in order to prepare? Or, What’s it going to be like? Or, What should I bring?
After having spent several years working in clinic-based pediatric occupational therapy settings, I can say you’re not the only parent who has questions like these!
TIPS TO PREPARE YOU FOR YOUR CHILD’S FIRST CLINIC-BASED OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY SESSION:
1. Be prepared to answer questions about your child — their likes, dislikes, fears, challenges, allergies, medications, developmental history, and any relevant experiences with past therapists. Clinics will typically have you fill out a welcome packet of some sort regarding your child’s medical and developmental history before they have their first appointment, which will help prime your brain for when you actually talk to the therapist. But the OT will also want to be able to get that type of information directly from you during the first session or two, particularly as it relates to the more personal and detailed information such as what their favorite activities, toys, colors, songs, vehicles or characters are. Clinic-based OT is very play-based, and we want that play to be a fun experience tailored to your child’s interests!
2. Be prepared to answer questions about what kinds of goals you would like your child to work on and achieve while in therapy. Yes, the OT is the expert when it comes to the clinical part of the treatment. We have the training and ability to evaluate children and determine where they are struggling and how we can go about helping with that. But it is YOU, the parent, who is the expert when it comes to your child. YOU are the one who is raising them and who is seeing the way their struggles affect them day in and day out. So YOU should be able to provide input to help guide and shape their treatment plan. Take some time to think about that before the first visit.
3. Bring socks. Most clinics will have your kiddo take off their shoes before they play on the mats, but they’ll also want them to be wearing socks in order to play. So if it’s summer time and they’re wearing sandals, don’t forget to pack the socks!
4. Make sure your child is wearing comfortable clothes for playing. Most OT rooms look kind of like an indoor playground. Super fun! Depending on the therapy goals, your child may end up playing on scooter boards, slides, swings, rock walls, and more. So ditch the skinny jeans or sundresses and make sure they are wearing comfortable play clothes that will allow them to slide, climb, swing, and crawl with ease.
5. Don’t feed your kid a big meal right before coming to play. We don’t want full tummies becoming upset while spinning, swinging, or crawling!
6. Call and reschedule if your child is sick. Most clinics have a pretty strict ‘No Sick Kids’ policy (or at least they should). If your child has a fever, flu, yellow or green snot, discharge coming out the ears, or any other yucky or contagious symptoms, call the clinic to cancel or reschedule. Try to give them at least 24 hours’ notice if you can (or abide by whatever their cancellation policy is). It’s okay if your kid is sick. We work with kids, we get it. But it’s not okay to get other people’s kids sick if you could have prevented it.
7. Bring a notebook or folder. Every therapist is different in the way they give parents suggestions and activities to do at home, but one thing is consistent — you WILL be given information and ideas to remember for when you go home and you WILL forget it! So bring a notebook or folder. It could be a real old fashioned pen-and-paper method, or it could be a digital age notepad (aka- smartphone). Or you could even take a picture of a toy or activity your child engaged with in therapy so you can remember to do something like that at home during the week. Whatever your method is, make sure it is portable, accessible, and easy-to-find. This will help you remember the types of things you and the OT talk about from week to week. The OT may, on occasion, give you a list of activities, suggestions, or even a sensory diet that will be super useful to you and beneficial to your child. This is where the folder will come in handy to keep you from losing that important stuff that we’ve spent our precious time putting together for you!
8. Ask questions. Ideally you + your child + the OT are a unified team. This therapy thing should not be a one sided deal, so ASK QUESTIONS! It’s okay to ask why a therapist is doing a certain activity with your little one. (Do it nicely, please.) And it’s okay to ask for clarification on something the OT has explained if they used too much jargon or talked too fast and you are totally lost. And it’s definitely okay to ask what you can do at home to support your child’s progress. We love that!!! I can’t emphasize that enough. I love it when parents ask questions.
9. Don’t talk too much during therapy sessions. Okay, I know I just said that you should ask questions and communicate with the OT during sessions, but just be aware that question-asking and adult conversation during your kiddo’s therapy session can be SUPER distracting, sometimes even dangerous. And if the point of your child being in therapy is to help him learn how to regulate his sensory system and/or focus his brain, then I would suggest trying to minimize the amount of talking that goes on during the session. We, of course, want to be able to appropriately communicate with parents during therapy, but we also want to create an environment that will set your child up for success and, perhaps, that means you shouldn’t be talking. Perhaps you can set up a system with the OT where you spend the first or last 10 minutes of the session communicating and asking questions. Or consider email if you have concerns or things that need to be communicated in a non-urgent manner that are relevant to your child’s therapy.
10. Be willing to ask the OT about where you can find additional resources to help support your child’s progress. It may be the school district. It may be a website with information about Sensory Processing Disorder (like this one) or Autism (like this one). Or a book like the ones I recommend here. It may be a parent group or play group filled with other moms and dads who find themselves in a situation similar to your own, right in your own town! You may even find a great play group for families of kiddos with autism or other special needs through MeetUp.com. So ask your child’s OT or a parent sitting in the lobby or the lady at the front desk. I bet one of us will be able to point you in the right direction.
I hope these tips are helpful to you and I wish you the best of luck as you, your child, and your family embark on a fun and fruitful journey through the world of clinic-based pediatric occupational therapy!