What to Expect on Your First Visit to a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

By Christie Kiley, OTR/L

If your child will be starting clinic-based occupational therapy (OT) soon, you probably have lots of questions and are maybe even feeling a little nervous or uncertain about what to expect. Don’t worry, that’s normal! Whether you are going in for the initial evaluation or for the first pediatric therapy session, here are some ideas of what to expect.

1. Be prepared to answer questions about your child. You will likely fill out a welcome packet either before or during the first session. It may ask about your child’s likes, dislikes, medical and developmental history, and any previous therapy experience. You will also be asked for practical info like your child’s address, insurance provider, medical number, pediatrician, and other medical specialists, so gather those facts before you arrive. Additionally, the therapist will want to know all about your child’s favorite toys, activities, foods, colors, characters, and songs. Because pediatric OT tends to be play-based, we want therapy to be a fun experience that involves your child’s interests!

2. Get ready to share your concerns and any potential goals you’d like addressed. Are you hoping your child can learn to cut with scissors, use utensils, or get dressed more independently? Do you wish he or she would tolerate wearing a wider variety of clothing textures, or eat more than just Goldfish crackers all day long? Do you wish your child could go to a grocery store or restaurant without having a total meltdown that results from sensory overload?

Although the OT is the clinical expert who will evaluate, write goals, and create a treatment plan, YOU are the one who knows your child and his or her daily struggles best. Your input matters!

3. It will look a lot like playtime…bring play clothes! Depending on the therapy goals, your child might play on a scooter board, trampoline, slide, rock wall, swing, and more!

Overly tight or poofy clothes may inhibit your child’s ability to fully participate, so encourage clothes that allow for jumping, climbing, and crawling with ease. Most clinics require kids to take off their shoes and wear socks when playing on the mats and equipment in order to keep things as germ-free as possible, so be sure to bring socks!

4. The first session may primarily involve building rapport and gathering information. One of the most powerful therapeutic tools in pediatric occupational therapy is TRUST. This is true with both the child and the family. If the child or parent does not trust the therapist, progress will likely be limited. Pediatric clients are often more willing to try difficult tasks in therapy once they have established rapport with the therapist, which means trust can lead to better therapeutic outcomes. So don’t worry if the first session (or even the first few) seems to focus more on establishing a relationship and gathering background information than on tackling challenging goals. Having fun is a good thing!

5. You may have a lot of information thrown at you. Though every therapist and clinic is different in how they provide educational information to parents, one thing is for sure – you WILL be given information to remember for when you go home and you WILL most likely forget it! The OT may give you a list of home program activities or even a sensory diet to support your child’s specific sensory needs (though perhaps not on the first visit). Because of this, it may be helpful to bring a notebook or folder where you can start an ongoing list or file of therapy recommendations and handouts/homework from OT sessions. If you don’t want to deal with papers, try starting a running “note” in your Smartphone or ask the OT (yes, please ask first!) if you can take a picture of a great toy or activity from that day’s session.

6. You will probably have a lot of questions…and that’s OK! If possible, try to save your questions for when the therapist and your child are not in the middle of an activity that requires a lot of focus, such as climbing a rock wall or balancing on a wobbly balance board. Side conversations can be distracting and sometimes even dangerous. It’s OK to ask why the OT is doing a certain activity (just please be polite), and it’s OK to ask for clarification if there is too much therapy jargon or you don’t seem to understand what’s going on. Don’t worry, you WILL catch on sooner or later and, before you know it, you may feel like a pro yourself!

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