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Monday, April 9, 2018

The Role of Pediatric Occupational Therapy


By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Community-Based Skills Coach

In order to fully understand the role that occupational therapy can play in pediatric health and wellbeing, it is first important to understand the term “occupation.”  The World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT) defines occupations as, “the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families, and in communities that occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life.”  As we know, these activities look different at every age, and our routines, habits, and responsibilities are continually growing and changing. 

During childhood, the development of these skills moves more quickly than any other period of life. For example, a two-year old little girl, Katie, is learning to put on her shirt independently, kick a ball, and sort by color.  Within ten short years, Katie may be getting herself ready for the bus, writing a three-paragraph essay, and learning to play the saxophone.  The transition to adolescence comes with even more new experiences and expectations.

So where does occupational therapy come in?

Occupational therapy focuses on the child, the activity at hand, and the environment around them.  By considering all of these factors, OTs work to determine the correct modifications, adaptations, and strategies that may be necessary for success.

What is the goal?

Due to the fact that occupations are incredibly personalized, the goal of OT is often to simply increase independence and participation in valued activities.  One child may be working on learning to independently tie his shoes, while another may need help developing a morning routine to consistently follow.  These goals are only worth focusing on and problem solving if they are important to the child and his or her family.

How do we get there?

Consider the child’s strengths and limitations. These may include physical, emotional, cognitive, sensory abilities, and much more.  A child’s particular interests, level of motivation, and understanding of themselves all play a role in their ability to engage in the things that are important to them.

Consider the environment. The environment in which a child lives and grows is physical, spiritual, social, and cultural. It is this individuality that makes it nearly impossible for an environment to be a “good fit for all users.”  Occupational therapists often work to modify the environment, or help individuals understand the role that the environment plays.

Consider the activity itself. The list of childhood occupations is seemingly never-ending.  From brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and doing chores, to maintaining friendships, navigating the digital world, and learning to take the bus, these skills all require numerous steps and different abilities.  These activities often must be broken down into small steps to determine how to help a child be successful.

My work at NESCA

At NESCA, I am currently working as a community-based skills coach, using occupational therapy to create experiential learning opportunities, and develop functional living skills.  I love having the ability to work with tweens, teens, and young adults in their own environment to collaborate on creating lasting strategies for participation and independence.

Dr. Bellenis works with a small caseload of clients aged 12-26 who have recently participated in neuropsychological evaluation and/or transition assessment at NESCA. If you have questions about working with Dr. Bellenis for Community-Based Skills Coaching, please email Kelley Challen, Director of Transition Services, at kchallen@nesca-newton.com.

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatrics and occupational therapy in the developing world. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as well as social skills coaching as part of NESCA’s transition team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. In addition to her work at NESCA, Dr. Bellenis works as a school-based occupational therapist for the city of Salem Public Schools and believes that individual sensory needs, and visual motor skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming. 




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