What is Occupational Therapy?
The term “occupation” refers to what humans “occupy” themselves with in daily life. For a child, daily occupations may include dressing, feeding, handwriting and focusing at school. Occupational therapy helps people be as independent and successful as possible in their everyday activities or occupations. Occupational therapists provide individualized evaluations to determine goals, customized intervention to improve the individual’s ability to perform daily activities and goal assessment. Some of the most common skills we target are fine motor skills such as handwriting, gross motor skills like coordinating a jumping jack and sensory integration skills such as focusing and regulating emotions.
What is unique about Occupational Therapy at Woodland Strides?
Woodland Strides offers a unique variation to occupational therapy by incorporating hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is a treatment strategy that utilizes the movement of a horse to help achieve functional goals. The pelvis of a human moves back and forth (anterior-posterior), side-to-side (lateral) and round-and-round (rotation). So does the pelvis of a horse! When a person rides on the back of a horse, their body experiences a similar motion to walking. This simulation has been shown to help people with disabilities who could not walk, be able to walk.
Equine movement challenges core strength, balance, strength, flexibility and provides sensory input. Activities are incorporated to promote increased sensory integration, coordination, fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills, social skills and so much more. The rhythmical and repetitive motion provides sensory input which is very effective in helping individuals with sensory integration challenges such as Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, speech-language delays, behavior challenges and other developmental disabilities. The therapist can grade the level of sensory input to the client by varying the horse’s gait, maneuvering the horse in certain patterns and altering positioning of the rider.
While astride the back of a horse, clients engage in a wide variety of activities to address their individualized goals. For example, reaching out of their base of support to drop a ring down a pole works to increase balance and strength. Placing clothespins in their horse’s mane facilitates improved fine motor skills. Riding backwards provides increased vestibular input and completing a multi-step activity promotes increased focus.
Typically, half of each occupational therapy session is spent utilizing hippotherapy as a treatment strategy. The other half occurs in the sensory gym, filled with fun therapy toys and equipment. During “gym time,” traditional occupational therapy techniques are appropriated. Sensory integration, fine motor, gross motor and self-care skills are targeted through purposeful play. During this time, the occupational therapist and families also collaborate to problem-solve challenges and develop strategies for home and school. All 60 minutes of occupational therapy can be offered in the gym if hippotherapy is determined to be unsafe for an individual (i.e. uncontrolled seizures or atlantoaxial instability present in Down Syndrome), the client is under the age of 2, if the individual does not wish to ride and/or on inclimate weather days.
What is the frequency?
Occupational therapy sessions are most commonly 30 minutes twice per week or 60 minutes once per week. Typically, 30 minutes are dedicated to traditional treatment techniques in the gym on-site and the other 30 minutes to goal-directed activities on horseback.