Is occupational therapy overrated?
Occupational therapy is often the first port of call for concerned parents, but is it being overused?
Many a child has come home from pre-primary and asked to do OT as an extra mural. They see that almost the entire class goes off, and they want to go too. At every party parents are complaining that their children have spent three terms learning to colour in the lines and the cost is getting excessive.Is OT just a money making racket?
OT is an applied science and health profession. It is the use of treatments by skilled and qualified practitioners to help people develop, recover or maintain daily living and work skills. It can be used for mental and physical conditions. OT is used for developmental delays and rehabilitation after accidents among other things, and to enable people to increase participation in daily living activities. This could involve adapting the environment of the person, or modifying the task.
How then do we end up with situations where the majority of the children in some grade R classes are going to occupational therapy? Where parents are called in and told their children aren’t holding a pencil correctly, yet when the parent shows the child how to do so, they manage perfectly. Surely that is one of the basic tasks of the teacher, and it would be a lot quicker to teach it than to call the parents in?
Children who attend OT love it. It’s just like having a personal tutor, you spend some time out of the classroom and it's fun. However, when the purpose of the profession is to treat people with birth injuries, developmental delays, amputations, burns, severe hand injuries, post surgical conditions, cognitive impairments and problems with activities of daily living, should every child who colours out of the lines be getting term after term of therapy? Should medical aids be reducing pools of savings paying for therapy that drags on for so long to treat a problem that is probably going to come right on its own or with a bit more input from parents anyway?
Is it possible that some occupational therapists are after a quick buck and that some teachers are overwhelmed with too many children in a class or unrealistic expectations by pushy parents of children in smaller classes and sending children for OT takes the pressure off? Are some parents and teachers focusing on non-issues and blowing them out of proportion and trying to treat things that don’t need treating? Would a little more time spent by parents teaching a child their shapes and colours and how to use the scissors not work just as well? Is OT for almost all not a bit of overkill? Or does this extra attention give children an academic edge like private sports coaching does for children who show early talent at sport? Schoolwork is after all a child’s occupation.
I’m one of the few parents of boys who refused to send my child for OT. Perhaps it was the timing. My son’s martial arts instructor commented to me that he was impressed with my child’s upper body strength and how he managed to do push ups so well for a four year old. The next day his teacher chose to tell me that she thought he had problems with his muscle tone in his upper body as he was colouring in slowly. I asked him why he was colouring in slowly. He replied that it was because the picture was for babies and he didn’t want to do it. Perhaps assumptions shouldn’t have been made on just one picture? Maybe I was completely wrong and he'll stumble terribly in high school, or maybe I just saved myself a few thousand rand and a few terms of unnecessary therapy. Have you felt pushed into using OT? Did you see benefits afterwards?