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Parent Tips:
Making the Most of the Occupational Therapy: The Importance of Parent Participation

Lisa C Bolster with Daughter

Lisa C. Bolster, Parent

I didn't know what occupational therapy (OT) was before my daughter was born. I never imagined that my family would come to rely on it, but after our daughter was born too early and too small, we began a long journey of medical treatment, developmental monitoring, and eventually OT. My daughter was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) when she was two. She will turn nine this year and is doing well, having “graduated” from therapy about four years ago. Throughout her early childhood, we were fortunate to have partnered with a number of excellent occupational therapists who believed in collaborating with parents, inviting us to be active participants in our child’s treatment, and providing us with the tools and knowledge necessary to embed therapy principles into our home and lifestyle. For me, it was an invaluable learning experience.
Initially, I did not participate much in my daughter’s early therapy sessions. At that time, my OT appointments were an opportunity for the therapist to work with my daughter one-on-one, while I took a much-needed break in the waiting room. I appreciated those brief periods of downtime, but they didn’t do much to reduce my underlying stress in the long term. It was not until I started participating in therapy sessions alongside our occupational therapist that I began to really understand how my daughter experienced and responded to treatment. By observing the strategies first-hand, and by having her therapist available to discuss and explain my observations, I started to develop a clearer, more personalized understanding of how I could help support her continued progress at home.

Active involvement in my child’s occupational therapy had a number of unexpected benefits. As I learned more, my confidence grew and my anxiety over my ability to help subsided. I learned therapeutic concepts behind occupational therapy activities, which gave me a foundation for developing strategies at home. SPD treatment isn’t a one-size fits all approach, and collaborating closely with my daughter’s therapist empowered me to create unique solutions that were more easily integrated into our daily life. I would be lying if I said this was easy, but it did get easier over time, and more meaningful. I am convinced that our occupational therapist’s expertise and open mind, coupled with my attunement to my daughter, contributed greatly to our steady progress and our sense of resilience.

Prior to partnering in my daughter’s treatment, I received OT “prescriptions” to carry out at home, and while they were helpful, it often felt mechanical and work-like. I had a schedule of tasks and felt pressure (from myself) to accomplish them. It sometimes felt like our daily life revolved around therapeutic activities, and yet I still didn’t feel like I was doing enough. Being actively involved addressed the burden I experienced, because I was able to improvise in creating therapeutic activities and tailor life to be more supportive. Most of all, I came to value playfulness and the emotional connection that evolved from spending time with my daughter. It’s not just the proprioceptive input on the trampoline that is therapeutic, it’s the warm, emotional interaction with an engaged parent or friend that matters as well, if not more. My attunement and emotional connection with my child was the most important aspect of her treatment and ultimately provided the best environment for her growth and development. I came to understand how much more meaningful her progress was when simultaneously experiencing the deep pleasure and satisfaction of our emotional connection first. My sense is that this is how and why profound change really happens. Plus, it’s simply more fun and less effort.

One of our main challenges as parents of children with sensory processing issues is to develop a new set of expectations. We need to learn new and different ways of living and relating that support our child’s growth and development as well as our own. Active participation in our children’s OT can be instrumental in this process. This is my recommendation to parents looking for meaningful ways to help their children, and themselves.

Lisa C. Bolster is the mother of an amazing 8-year-old girl with Sensory Processing Disorder. She divides her time between her family, graduate studies in marriage and family therapy, and volunteering at the STAR Center. She will begin a counseling internship at the STAR Center beginning in spring 2012, and will be available to counsel parents, children, couples and families.


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