Occupational therapists are skilled in assessing how a child’s sensory processing abilities, fine motor skills, visual motor skills and gross motor skills impact performance and function in daily life including self-care, play and academics. Proficient skills in these areas are imperative for children to be successful in the classroom environment.
- Sensory processing skills support a child’s ability to learn. A child who is unable to process environmental stimuli effectively and efficiently will be unavailable to learn. Children with sensory processing dysfunction may have difficulty sitting still for an extended period of time in their desks or during circle time, they may be unable to pay attention when others around them are talking or they may have difficulty standing in line without touching, or hanging on a friend in front of them. These behaviors are a result of poor processing of the vestibular, auditory and proprioceptive systems, respectively.
- Efficient fine motor skills are necessary to complete academic work. From writing to cutting with scissors and keyboarding to making crafts, fluid fine motor skills help children complete classroom activities and homework.
- Efficient visual motor skills provide a foundation for writing and copying from the board as well as completing math work.
- Efficient gross motor skills are important within the school environment for moving safely throughout the school and classroom, engaging with peers on the playground or during gym, and sustaining appropriate posture while sitting at a desk to complete work.
When a child struggles in any of these areas, it may not always be obvious. Oftentimes, sensory processing difficulties go unnoticed for many years and the child is left with academic or behavioral challenges. Therefore, occupational therapy screens are essential for schools. An occupational therapist’s knowledge of child development, and its impact on daily functioning, can help identify children who would benefit from therapy services.
The screens can also be used as a preventative measure to ensure that a child’s development is on track and the child will have the foundational skills necessary to be available to learn. Occupational therapy screens also allow the opportunity for OTs to educate and collaborate with teachers and educators to provide suggestions that they can share with families and use in the classroom.