Self-care skills are incredibly important for young children to learn, but for children with sensory issues or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), some self-care skills can be difficult to master. If a child has sensory issues, their brain may have trouble processing or organizing information from the senses (sights, sounds, smells, textures, or flavors). As a result of sensory issues, activities such as brushing teeth can be extremely uncomfortable. If you are a parent and you believe your child is experiencing sensory issues, occupational therapy may be a beneficial next step.
What is pediatric occupational therapy?
Pediatric occupational therapy focuses on building the skills that children need to complete their daily activities, or “occupations.” An occupational therapist will work with pediatric patients on skills, including fine and gross motor skills and sensory skills.
To help kiddos with sensory issues become more comfortable with brushing their teeth, an occupational therapist might use a few different strategies, depending on the needs of each child. Here are 4 examples.
- Visual supports: For children with sensory issues or ASD, visual supports can be a helpful way to set expectations for the activity. A step-by-step visual support can help to reduce anxiety or discomfort around the activity by eliminating any guessing or unknown variables.
- Playing a song: As we mentioned, unknown factors can cause discomfort during tasks, such as toothbrushing. Typically children brush their teeth for at least two minutes, so you could work with your child to pick a song (that they like!), which is about two minutes long. You could then play this each time they need to brush their teeth to set the expectation that they need to brush for the whole song. This will allow them to become comfortable and familiar with the routine of brushing.
- Play with toothpaste: Children with sensory issues often experience aversions to certain foods, and playing with those food (making them less “scary”) can often be a helpful strategy in occupational therapy. The same is true for brushing teeth. If a child is experiencing an aversion to the texture, smell, or flavor of toothpaste, it might be helpful for them to play with the toothpaste. By presenting toothpaste as fun, it may help to decrease aversions.
- Practice with a toy: In order to show the child that brushing their teeth does not have to be a painful or uncomfortable activity, it can be helpful to demonstrate and have them practice on a toy, such as an egg carton or blocks. This method also takes the guessing out of what happens when you brush your teeth, since there is a clear visual.
Would you like to learn more about pediatric occupational therapy or the OT way to brush teeth?
Contact Chicago Occupational Therapy or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about our services for children, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.