By Ilda van der Merwe
If the above resonates with you, you are in good company. Often, mothers (and grandmothers) feel powerless and overwhelmed when faced with the struggle of therapy. Why does this happen and what can I do?
When we read the word “therapy,” many people understand that it has to do with the treatment of illnesses. This outlook makes us think that something like “Occupational therapy” is exclusively for adults – they are the “workforce” after all. But children also have work. Their work is to play and to learn (KidsHealth).
Through playing and moving, children develop a solid foundation in preparation for schoolwork. The brain, senses, and muscles are wired neurologically through play to communicate effectively, but when parts of a child’s wiring are missing, the teacher may be concerned about issues such as poor pencil grip, low muscle tone, attention deficit, reversals, etc., and may recommend therapy. Therapists (occupational therapists, neurodevelopmental therapists, speech therapists, and remedial therapists) specialize in identifying and solving developmental and neurological wiring weaknesses (De Jager, 2009).
We all know the saying “Practice makes perfect.” For example, writing neatly on the lines requires a lot of practice and repetition. Neuro-scientifically speaking, it means that, for example, writing builds neurological wiring. When a child writes over and over again, he becomes more skilled at it. Research shows that repetition creates a myelin layer that is similar to the plastic layer around a TV’s electrical cord. When the neurological wiring is protected by a myelin layer (Shenm, 2013), writing becomes easier and faster.
When the teacher complains about your child’s writing, reading, sitting, or task completion, we understand that therapy is needed to complete and myelinate the necessary neurological wiring. How long will therapy take? It depends on how weak the wiring is and how much repetition is needed to complete the wiring. We cannot guess, measure, or count it. We also can’t lose hope or stop before the process is complete, otherwise, the problem will not go away.
What am I supposed to do? Burying my head in the sand (ostrich politics) is not an option. Therapy takes time – and commitment. Your child’s development is not just a matter of time, but also a priority, because the earlier a problem is addressed, the sooner it will be resolved, and your child will flourish. Sometimes it takes only one therapist, and sometimes a team of experts to work with you as a parent to address the delay(s).
If your child has a setback, it is not because you are a bad parent, it happens sometimes.
Play “I spy with my little eye” Do addition/subtraction sums with the streetlamps. While you’re waiting in the car for Suzie’s piano lesson, practice spelling words by making letters with clay snakes. Practice multiplication tables by “rapping” them on the way to school.
Wash with a rough sponge. Squeeze water out of the sponge with each hand. Rub cream to promote body image. Make bath paint by mixing shaving cream with a drop of food coloring. Blow bubbles in the water with a straw.
Roll your child up in a blanket. Then pull the corners tightly so they unroll. Tuck the sheet tightly under the mattress. Let your child crawl in from the foot of the bed to the top. Read stories. Vocabulary is learned by hearing words.
Remove all the cushions from the couches and build a fort. Bake cookies: mix and roll balls with your hands. Build an obstacle course and crawl, roll, and sail through it. Play old-school games with a spoon, ball, bucket, and hula hoop.
Climb, swing, and slide to build balance and muscle tone. Splash around in the water! Play “tennis” using hand towels as rackets. Two children hold onto a towel and hit the ball for the other two.
Play with clay/a stress ball to improve handwriting. Sit on a gym ball to strengthen core muscles. Lie flat on your stomach for times to strengthen back and neck muscles.
Stick a piece of paper under the table. Lie on your back and write summaries/spelling words under the table. Memorize by writing keywords with “Dry wipe” pens on the window.
Playing is a fun way to learn without the pressure to perform. Dr. Melodie de Jager.
De Jager, M. 2009. Mind Moves – Moves that Mend the Mind. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute.
Dictionary.com. Available on the Internet at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/positive-reinforcement . Retrieved on January 27, 2016.
Google answers. 2005. Available on the Internet at: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=516517 Retrieved on January 27, 2016.
KidsHealth, 1995. Available on the Internet at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/ill/occupational_therapy.html Retrieved on January 27, 2016.
Shen, Jason. 2013. Why practice actually makes perfect: How to rewire your brain for better performance. Available on the Internet at: https://blog.bufferapp.com/why-practice-actually-makes-perfect-how-to-rewire-your-brain-for-better-performance Retrieved on January 27, 2016.