For a parent who is new to the world of pediatric therapy, there is a lot of information that can be overwhelming. Encompassing the whys, hows, and what ifs of treatment may be daunting. Occupational therapy, along with other types of pediatric therapy, can often require a lot time and monetary commitment which can be challenging to manage. One of the most common questions parents ask is “how long will my child need occupational therapy?”
To many parents frustration, the answer always is, it depends. Each child’s needs, temperament, and progress will determine the length of time that occupational therapy is needed.
Since occupational therapy is often recommended when children have a difficult time participating in various life situations, such as play or school activities. A licensed occupational therapist will look at the child’s “whole picture” to determine the best course of treatment. In some children, this may mean providing accommodations that can help them be more successful, such as using a special type of pencil, or raising the height of their chair and desk at school. Simple accommodations like these, or more dramatic ones such as changing schools to have better access to appropriate materials or equipment, may have the greatest impact. These changes may reduce the need for long-term, regular therapy sessions.
For children with concurrent disabilities, such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy, long-term occupational therapy may be required, as these children often have multiple areas of need that may be best suited to a longer-term treatment plan. These children may do better with “breaks” in therapy after a several-month block of time in order to decrease frustration and increase productivity. For children with milder needs, therapy may last a few months to a year before the necessary improvements are seen.
Often a timeline for therapy can only be estimated after a full evaluation. An occupational therapist’s evaluation will typically include several measures, including standardized tests and informal observations, to determine your child’s needs. The results of this evaluation, coupled with the therapist’s experience and expertise, may allow them to estimate the duration and intensity of therapy needed. However, even given this process, every child responds differently to intervention. Frequent communication with your child’s occupational therapist will be the most beneficial in estimating a timeline and seeing the best results!