How Occupational Therapy Gave Us Peace and Understanding, By Katy Klimczuk
In 2019, we learned about a local occupational therapy clinic. As a former teacher, the only occupational therapy I knew about was for handwriting. But once I started noticing high sensitivity and sensory avoidant behaviors in my child, I knew that we needed some outside help. Uneven surfaces, unfamiliar places, and food preferences were becoming more and more difficult to navigate. Through experience with my own OCD, I knew that enabling behaviors would only lead to more difficulties in the future. I started hearing about how occupational therapy, or OT, could be a way to help organize the brain, calm anxiety, and get regulated.
We found an occupational therapy clinic about 20 minutes from our house. I was immediately impressed. It was like a miniature gym in each room. There were mats covering the floors, giant pillow-like crash pads, labeled bins with sensory toys, and swings hanging from the many hooks on the ceiling. My daughter did an evaluation and I completed some assessments online prior to beginning the session. Upon our first meeting, we sat down together while the kids explored and developed goals for our time together.
Occupational therapy at this clinic consisted of a 30 session round. They use something called Ayres’ Sensory Integration. According to The Collaborative for Leadership in Ayres Sensory Integration (CLASI), “Classic intervention is provided in a specialized therapy room with sensory equipment that provides tactile, visual, proprioceptive and vestibular opportunities in a structured manner in collaboration with the primary caregivers.” This form of OT empowers your child to make their own choices and control much of their time at the clinic. Typically, my daughter would choose the room and activity to begin with. If she chose to swing, other challenges would soon be added to extend her play and work towards her goals. If it was socialization, we may choose to swing in a room with another child. If we were working on core strength, she may be asked to pick up a ball with her feet and squeeze it while swinging. Everything in this mode of OT is couched in play and interactivity and I’ve never not seen my children beam with smiles while we were there.
Within a week or two of beginning sessions, I could tell that OT had brought a greater sense of calm and confidence to our lives. When we respect and treat our bodies with care and attention, we begin to grow and flourish. We become who God wants us to be. Years ago, I never thought I’d see my children initiate friendships, climb the tallest slides, and take risks, but they are doing it now and I have OT to thank for that.
Now that we’ve done a few rounds, here are a few tips that may help you if you’re considering OT for your family:
Check your insurance. WIth a doctor’s prescription, we were able to get our evaluation and sessions covered and paid a copay.
Get involved! The program we used was very family-friendly and encouraged the parents’ involvement and questions. After all, you will be encouraging these skills outside of the clinic, so it is best that you understand the how and why.
Talk about OT as a fun opportunity. We often chatted about how fun it was to play at OT! It’s hard to not have fun when you can build obstacle courses, jump onto crash pads, and blow bubbles inside.
Choose a season that is right for you. Sometimes you just need to jump in when help is available. But if you have a choice, we have found the colder months to be more beneficial for our children since it can be difficult to go outside and get regulated as easily.
Check your local school system for support. With an IEP or prescription, you may be able to access occupational therapy through your school district and this can often be done during the school day. Ask what kind of therapy is offered and how you can be involved.
Katy Klimczuk is a former reading specialist turned homeschool teacher and children’s author. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two children, and two cats. She hopes you find joy and connection through her work. Follow along at https://www.instagram.com/katyklimczuk/.