What is a Pediatric-Focused Occupational Therapist?

As with naturopathic doctors, occupational therapists often get the question: how exactly can you help me? I've had the privilege to learn from Lucia Cacciacarro exactly what occupational therapists do, and I wanted to share it will all of you because I believe that they have the power to bring change to children's lives. Below are a list of questions that I asked Lucia about occupational therapy. Her answers illustrate how she can best serve the community (and also some fun information about Lucia herself!). Check out what she had to say:

1. What is a pediatric-focused OT?

As an occupational therapist (OT) working in pediatrics I serve families whose goals are to improve their child’s functioning and ability to carry out meaningful activities of daily living. Activities of daily living for children are made up of everyday tasks involving some of the following:  play and exploration of objects, eating and drinking. Other tasks may involve learning to self feed, dressing oneself or using the potty, tying shoelaces, learning to ride a bike and using clear printing skills.

I’ve worked with families whose babies are struggling to feed safely by breast or bottle due to medical or oral motor/structural problems. I’ve also worked with preschoolers who struggle to eat textured or solid pieces of food. OTs can help children navigate all the senses involved in seeing, smelling, touching and ultimately eating new or challenging foods. We work as a team, with caregivers and children, helping to achieve biting and chewing skills as well as overall enjoyment in eating. OTs can assist children in building independence in eating by teaching the use of utensils and cup drinking.

OTs use observations and handling techniques to analyze a child’s gross and fine motor skill development as well as cognitive and social skills involved in interactive play. We help strengthen motor and cognitive skills needed to do functional and meaningful tasks. This may involve learning to sit unsupported so a child can reach out and grasp food or toys without falling over. It can also involve working with school aged kids who are struggling with their printing skills as a result of visual perception challenges. OTs have a special part to play in helping kids become more functional and independent.

We also coach caregivers on how to offer their children, a “just right” challenge, as they strive to build new skills in play, school and home settings.  

2. What are some misconceptions about OT?

Many people think that occupational therapy involves helping people get back to work after an accident. The reality is that some OTs do work in the field of return to work rehabilitation, however this is just one small area of health where OTs work. The root of the word “occupation” is “doing”, so it makes sense that OTs work with people of all ages, helping them get back to “doing” the things that they want or need to do to have a meaningful life.

3. Tell us a memorable experience in OT.

I recently had a visit from an 8 year old boy who I worked with when he was a just over a year old.  When he was a baby he suffered from a neurological impairment that resulted in weakness in one half of his body. This weakness affected his ability to use the right arm and right leg.  Along with his mom, we worked with him for several visits. We carried out sensory-motor based activities to encourage more use of the weaker arm and leg in play and movement.    I was so happy to see him that day, all those years later, jumping around in my therapy room. He grew into a happy and active kid, who could have the same experiences like his peers. It was the best reward I could ever have as an OT, to see a child having so much fun while moving and playing.

4. What’s your meal/snack of choice and how do you prepare it?

I grew up with 4 older siblings and as a child I loved baking for my family. One of my favourite things to bake was chocolate chip cookies as it was an easy and quick treat. My love of chocolate continues today and with a busy career, I find myself turning to baking those quick and easy  chocolate chip cookies when I’m craving something sweet and tasty.  I’ve used different recipes but my favourite is one from a William Sonoma Book called “Cookies” given to me by my fellow OT and friend Leanda. I truly believe that a child’s life should be filled with many sweet and simple experiences, just like my cookies! I am so lucky to have a job where I can serve children and their families, helping to make life sweet and less challenging.

Erin Enns