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April is National Occupational Therapy Month, a time to shine awareness on the work that Occupational Therapists do to promote “living life to its fullest,” as named in the motto of the American Occupational Therapy Association. OTs work with people of all ages who have difficulty participating in the things, or “occupations,” that bring meaning to their lives. For children, meaningful occupations include play, learning, participating successfully in social interactions and activities, developing independence in self-care activities, and sometimes simply getting through the day without falling apart. The OTs here at St. David’s Center lean into their backgrounds of science and use their creativity to help children develop the skills they need to be successful in their daily lives.

The current environment and crisis that we are living in has made it challenging for many of us, children and adults alike, to get through the day without falling apart. We’ve been asked to “stay at home” while we work, while our kids go to school, while we miss out on events and experiences that we’ve been looking forward to, while we learn new ways to do simple tasks like grocery shopping, while we worry about our budgets and our health, and while we miss the physical, social relationships beyond our immediate families that support us.

At St. David’s Center, we talk often about self-regulation, that physiological, mental, and emotional process that helps us engage successfully in activities that provide meaning to our lives – and get through the days “without falling apart.” OTs bring a unique set of tools to support children’s ability to regulate. They study the body, the brain, how sensory information is processed and organized, and help the kids engage in “fun” activities that help the brain and body regulate – because “fun” is meaningful for children. Here are some strategies that you can bring into your own home to support regulation for your children…and for you.

  1. Routines support health and wellbeing: Truthfully, it can be difficult to know what day it is when we “stay at home” every day. Daily activities and schedules provide predictability. Although you can choose to deem every day “pajama day,” having a daily routine can support regulation for children. Having regular times for sleep and for meals, for work and for play, and times to be active and read books supports young children.
  2. Build times for physical play into your day: Physical activity, especially activity that provides heavy work for the muscles and joints of the body, facilitates regulation. Fun or silly play that makes you laugh and playing outside amplifies the benefit of active play. Playing together also supports social connection for adults and children.
  3. Lean into the sensory systems to support regulation: We know that for most people, specific kinds of sensory input support calming and organization of our brain and body. Here are some examples:
  • Move: slow, rhythmical movement and heavy work
  • Touch: deep, expected touch (think massage)
  • Listen: familiar, soft, rhythmical music
  • Taste: warm, smooth, sweet, and chewy foods
  • Look: dim lights, repetitive motion (e.g., fish in a tank), picture schedules, limited clutter

This is a challenging time, but when we approach our days with thoughtfulness, we can continue to engage in meaningful activities and live life to its fullest.

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