Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Developmental Delays Among Pre-school Children

Children develop at varying rates which is completely natural. However, a certain percentage of children may experience mild developmental delays that can hinder their ability to effectively carry out various everyday tasks and achieve their high potential.
It is a widely accepted view that such children can benefit from early intervention to address these delays and provide them with one-on-one support to prevent the accumulation of functional gaps between them and peers in their age group, especially as they enter the school system.

Does My Child Need Help?
Advice for Parents

I frequently meet with parents who have concerns or questions whether their child is developing the way or at the pace he or she should. In some cases the child in question has already been diagnosed at an earlier stage to be at risk for developmental problems. Sometimes the trigger to such thoughts can be a comment made by a caregiver regarding the child’s development or difficulty within a regular preschool or classroom environment.

Examples for such comments can be as vague as “your child needs to work on his fine motor skills” or as specific as “your child has a little difficulty cutting with scissors” or “your child doesn’t like to draw so much and often avoids drawing”.

Unfortunately many parents avoid exploring the issue and accept the comment at face value. I find that in the politically correct society we live in, this is also the way many caregivers prefer to address such situations.

My advice for parents, founded on many years of working with highly capable children, is to be highly attentive to even the smallest daily struggles a child displays during the preschool years. Below you will find a list of symptoms that should indicate challenges.

Parents are also encouraged to ask the caregiver for additional information whenever a potential concern regarding their child’s development is surfaced and specifically inquire about the child’s skills in comparison to his or her peers. 

Most importantly, I recommend that parents and teachers alike do not make any assumptions that these, seemingly minor, developmental gaps will dissolve with time.

Unfortunately the contrary is true - these gaps usually widen as time goes by and as the functional demands from the child increase.

Deciding if Occupational Therapy Intervention is Right for your Child

It is never easy for a parent to accept that their beloved child has challenges or struggles in life. Moreover, it is seldom easy to find the time, energy or even financial means to take a child to therapy of any kind. However, like many circumstances in life, addressing issues early on prevents them from growing into problems that are even harder to manage.

Early intervention can be instrumental in preventing the secondary complications and longer term effects of a mild developmental delay, such as learning difficulties, written output disorders, emotional, social or behavioral problems.

Other reasons to support early intervention are:

  • Child development research has established that during preschool years the rate of human learning and development is the most rapid, meaning that if a developmental gap is identified during this period, time is of essence.

  • Years of research show evidence, both quantitatively (data-based) and qualitatively (reports of parents and teachers) that early intervention increases the developmental and educational gains for the child.

  • Though private occupational therapy services are not cheap, investing your money in therapy for your child in his or her early years will save you money in the long run. Early intervention has been proven to be highly cost-effective in the long-term.

Symptoms of Developmental Challenges

Consider contacting an occupational therapist when your child (at least 4 years of age) exhibits one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Struggles with tracing and/or copying basic shapes and letters, handwriting, drawing, coloring or scissoring skills etc.

  • Has an awkward pencil grasp which reduces the quality of his graphic output (e.g. a jerky line)

  • Puts an extra effort into fine motor performance (e.g., moving his trunk or lifting his shoulder)

  • Keeps switching hands while coloring and writing and hasn’t yet established a dominant hand

  • Struggles with block construction and/or puzzle assembly

  • Has poor posture while sitting, or appears “floppy” and weak and gets tired easily

  • Lacks organizational skills, is slow and inefficient in his/her performance or has short attention span.

  • Has low self-confidence and self-esteem, becomes easily frustrated and tends to avoid tasks that require motor skills


What to Expect Next?

Whether you consult with a Pediatric Occupational Therapist directly or seek the advice of your child’s pediatrician, the next step will likely be occupational therapy assessment to validate the existence of your child's developmental delays and suggest a course of action.
Therapy sometimes requires additional intervention by professionals such as a physiotherapist, speech-language pathologist, child psychologist and others .

For high level information on the occupational therapy assessment and treatment services provided at KidSkills see the Assessment & Treatment section..