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How and when to source a children’s Occupational Therapist

by Nikki Thompson

Paediatric occupational therapy is a specialism of the profession where the OT is able to assess and treat the physical, mental and cognitive aspects of a child’s development. They look at the whole child to facilitate and support them and their family to achieve maximum independence and access the opportunities within the world around them.

When might we need a paediatric Occupational Therapist?

A paediatric Occupational Therapist aims to identify any barrier or challenges that a child is experiencing when completing activities and find ways to remove or reduce them. Examples of when a paediatric OT might be able to help include:

Planning and organising

This can be particularly challenging for children when there is a time restriction involved such as getting themselves organised to get out of the house for school in the morning or changing after PE.

Gross movement and coordination difficulties

Activities requiring gross motor co-ordination such as walking, running, riding a bike.

Handwriting and fine motor skills

Activities such as doing up buttons and zips, handwriting or using cutlery.

Hand eye co-ordination / Visual perception

When a child has difficulty processing visual information, such as copying from a school board, an OT can teach long-term strategies to help rebuild ability and confidence for these day to day skills.

Sensory processing difficulties

When a child has difficulty processing the sensory information from the outside world, their behaviour can reflect this over or under-stimulation. A paediatric Occupational Therapist will work with a child to identify the areas causing difficulties and plan out their ‘sensory integration’ to help manage in these circumstances.

Complex Health Needs

When a child has complex needs, an OT can be an invaluable part of the process to maximising independence and inclusion in education and family life. Their expertise means they can provide support in multiple areas such as: seating & wheelchairs, moving & handling, specialist equipment or vehicles, and advisory on housing adaptations. The OT then works collaboratively with the child, family, carers, professional colleagues such as case managers and education staff, to ensure the most positive outcomes for all.

Where do occupational therapists work?

Occupational therapists work within the NHS and Social Care Teams as well as independently.

NHS and Social Care teams will have criteria they use to identify if they are able to provide a service to a child. They are most likely to have waiting lists due to the high volume of referrals they receive and the staff available to support them. Waiting list times can vary dramatically throughout the country and you can ask about this at the time you enquire.

The NHS occupational therapy team will look after any challenges with a child’s functional needs including specialist seating and any equipment required to access education.

The Social Care teams will look after areas where a child requires home adaptations and any fixed specialist equipment within the home.

The lines of responsibility between the two teams can blur and they often work collaboratively to ensure the best outcome for a child.

If you are not eligible for a service from either the NHS or Social Care, or the waiting lists are too long for you, there is the option of commissioning an independent occupational therapist to assess, provide advice and treat your child.

When you commission an independent OT (or your Case Manager, if you have one, does so on your behalf) you can expect them to come to your home if you do not wish to go to a clinic setting. If the challenges your child is experiencing are predominantly in the home or at school, these are possibly the best settings for them to be seen in.

The OT will be able to work collaboratively with you and any other professionals involved for as long as you require so as to achieve the goals you set together. There are no eligibility criteria or defined processes to adhere to.

Private OT is a service that you are commissioning independently of statutory services, this means that you will need to pay for it. Don’t forget to ask for T and C’s so that you know what you are signing up for!

The OT Practice

We have a nationwide network of expert paediatric Occupational Therapists and would be delighted to speak to parents or professionals who are looking to commission independent occupational therapy. Please contact our OT Practice Kids team on 0330 024 9910 to discuss your individual needs.

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