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Occupational Therapy: Frequently Asked Questions

What is sensory processing and self-regulation?  

Sensory Processing is the way our brain and body receives and interprets sensory information such as touch, taste, smell, sound, and movement. Sometimes this information can become misinterpreted by the brain resulting in a unique, and at times, maladaptive behavioral response. When these behavioral responses impact a child’s ability to safely engage in their daily activities, they may meet criteria for what is known as Sensory Processing Disorder. How an individual processes sensory information can play a significant role in what is known as Self-Regulation. 

Self Regulation is the ability to take the sensory information you’ve received and interpreted and then understand it enough to manage your behavior, reactions, and feelings to that information. For example, if your child perceives touch (tactile) input as threatening, they might have a tantrum when you try to put on the new sweater dress you bought them, in which case they are not able to self-regulate their central nervous system.  Occupational therapists are trained to assess a child’s unique sensory needs and work with the family to make environmental changes or teach specific regulation strategies in order for that child to more meaningfully process or interpret their sensory experiences.  

Why is play based learning important?  

As pediatric occupational therapists, we understand the value of play.  We are trained to analyze all the occupations a child does throughout their day and are equipped to assess their performance skills, as well as the environment, in order to increase participation in developmentally appropriate activities.  To clarify—an “occupation” is ANY activity we do throughout our day that occupies our time and brings meaning and purpose to our life e.g. get dressed, brush teeth, interact with others, learn, and you guessed it… play.  

A child’s most important occupational is play! It is through play that a child learns about the world and themselves. Play impacts a child’s social, physical, cognitive, and emotional development. When a child is actively participating in a motivating activity (play), they are developing confidence, independence, social skills, motor skills, problem solving, creativity, and more.  We love to harness the power of play in our sessions to help clients develop new skills—all while having FUN!  

What can I do to support my child while in therapy?   

Regularly attending scheduled appointments is the first step in seeing progress with your child.  In addition to attending sessions, it’s important you understand and are confident in administering the “home exercise program” (you may hear it referenced as a HEP) or weekly recommendations given by your occupational therapist. Open communication about your concerns and family lifestyle will help your therapist create a plan that works for YOUR family! We strive to embed helpful strategies and modifications into your naturally occurring routine to best support your child. Be open, be honest, and be receptive to trying new things! Working on recommended activities at home will greatly impact progress vs your child only targeting skills 1x a week at the time of their occupational therapy session.  

What is executive functioning?  

Executive functioning is our brain’s ability to efficiently organize information to maintain cognitive, behavioral, and self-regulation skills needed for safe and effective decision making in all areas of our daily routine. Components of executive functioning include but are not limited to: working memory, attention, flexibility, planning, prioritizing, organization, task initiation, and impulse control. Children who struggle with executive functioning skills may present as disorganized, prone to emotional outbursts, have difficulty remembering multistep directions, and struggle to initiate tasks on their own.  Occupational therapists are trained to assess the breakdown in the specific area of executive functioning in order to best support a child’s safe and effective decision-making skills.