What is Occupational Therapy (And Does Your Baby Need One)?

Watching your baby grow and develop is exciting. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You experience their first steps and their first words. These are moments that only happen once. But perhaps you’re noticing your little one isn’t progressing at a usual pace. 

While all babies are different, if you have any concerns about your baby’s progress and development, pediatric occupational therapy can help. 

What is Pediatric Occupational Therapy?

Pediatric occupational therapy involves the assessment of your child’s physical and neurological development. A pediatric occupational therapist will determine if your baby has any delays in terms of their fine motor skills, social development, cognitive skills, and more. Essentially, it’s about giving your child a solid start in life so that they can become successful and happy adults. 

Pediatric occupational therapists help babies for the following reasons:

  • Development of visual motor skills, including hand-eye coordination and eye-tracking of an object.
  • Limitations or delays with fine or gross motor skills.
  • Delays with cognitive development, such as problem solving abilities, attention, and memory.
  • Delays in social interaction.
  • Sensory integration problems.
  • Low or excess muscle tone.
  • Feeding difficulties, such as transitions to solid food or picky eating.

In most cases, your pediatrician may recommend pediatric occupational therapy when they have concerns regarding your baby’s development. However, a doctor’s referral isn’t required to see an occupational therapist. 

How Pediatric Occupational Therapy Works

Pediatric occupational therapy starts with an assessment. This involves taking a closer look at your baby’s health history, as well as asking you questions about your concerns. 

The therapist will then observe your baby playing, and will perform various testing to determine the best course of treatment. Treatment then involves follow-up sessions where an occupational therapist works with your baby one-on-one to develop their skills. Parents may also be provided education and activities to work on at home.

Generally, a pediatric occupational therapist’s goal involves helping your child grow and develop in the best way possible through play. Treatment may entail obstacle courses, games, and even crafts. In other words, your baby is guided toward optimal development while having fun. Exercises, such as stretching, may also be included, such as in babies with torticollis.

Does Your Baby Need Infant Occupational Therapy?

Knowing developmental milestones can help you pinpoint whether or not your baby is on the right track when it comes to their growth. Below, we outline some basic guidelines to help you determine where your baby should be.

Two Months

At this age, most babies start smiling. They may coo or gurgle. They likely turn their head toward sounds and are able to follow objects with their eyes. 

Four Months

Your baby is likely able to play with people and copy expressions. They likely mimic sounds and babble a bit. They also respond to affection, as well as are able to steady their head and roll over. 

Six Months

Most babies know their name by this point. They also recognize faces and are also able to sit without a supportive hand or backrest. They may bring objects toward their mouth. The biggest thing around the 6 month mark is that they are able to support their weight with their legs, as long as they are helped into a standing position. Some babies will start to roll from their backs to tummy. At this age, some babies will also start eating some solid (soft) foods.

Nine Months

At 9 months, your baby should know the word ‘no.’ They watch objects fall and may experience fear of strangers. They like to put things in their mouth, pick up small food between their index finger and thumb, crawl, and stand up as long as they are holding onto a support.

Twelve Months

Your child shows fear at things that should cause fear. They stick out their limbs to help you dress them. They likely say variations of ‘mom’ or ‘dad.’ They are curious about objects and may shake or bang them. Your baby should be able to stand up on their own by pulling on a table or chair. They also may start to stand and walk unsupported. 

When Should You Be Concerned?

Causes for concern may include a floppy head, lack of muscle tone, unusual reaction to stimuli, inability to hold objects after 3 months, and trouble swallowing or sucking on food or difficulty transitioning to solid food. 

If you think your little one may need occupational therapy, Oona has an expert team of pediatric occupational therapists. Guide your child toward optimal growth and development. Set them on the right path to success later in life. Click here to learn more.

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