As pediatric occupational therapists, one of the questions that we get asked most often is “How and why are you getting kids a job?” As it turns out, we aren’t and here’s why:
While the traditional sense of the word occupation is defined as a job, career, or vocation, occupational therapy defines occupation as life activities. Occupations include sleep, leisure, play, work, education, and social participation. They can also include simple tasks including dressing, bathing, and brushing one’s teeth as well as more complex tasks including child-rearing and financial management. For a child, their occupations consist of eating, sleeping, toileting, learning, socializing, and arguably one of the most important childhood occupations, play. Play is the foundation for so much development as children are exposed to social interactions, praxis and multi-step tasks, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and self-regulation skills. As occupational therapists it is our job to help children build an adaptive response to an every changing environment by integrating skill into play. This becomes important not only for keeping a child engaged but also creating neural pathways in the brain through motivating activities.
For children with sensory processing difficulties their occupations can become significantly impacted as they are not able to engage and function as easily across a variety of settings. For example, some children are not able to participate in play with peers because they have difficulty with impulse control and are often aggressive; some children are unable to sit still for an extended period of time impacting their attention at school because they require more movement to achieve an organized state; some children are unable to eat successfully as they do not have the tongue coordination to manipulate a variety of textures or their body interprets squishy foods as painful or uncomfortable. When a child is unable to successfully engage in occupations they are likely to experience distress as well as decreased self-esteem. This can impact the entire family as parent and sibling occupations can become interrupted as well.
Our clients are the most successful when they are engaged in play but the real question is what defines play? Here are the most common qualities associated with play:
- Constructive, exploratory, fantasy, and/or physical
- Active involvement
- Focus on the process not the end goal
We challenge you to help your children incorporate more play into their lives in order to build and develop a variety of skills that will ultimately help them engage in all of their daily occupations!