In a typical preschool program, you may not encounter occupational therapists or speech-language pathologists, however, a therapeutic preschool program is designed to provide additional support for key developmental skills, such as speech, language, behavior, motor skills, and more. As a result, many therapeutic preschool programs have a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) and pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP) who work directly with children to offer one-on-one support. This multidisciplinary approach, which incorporates the support of both an OT and SLP, can be extremely helpful for little ones who are struggling to meet developmental milestones.
In occupational therapists sessions, the therapist will work with children to develop skills critical for daily activities (or ‘occupations’), and during speech sessions, the SLP will focus on developing speech and language skills, in order to help children be effective communicators. While these two domains teach different skills, pediatric OTs and SLPs in a therapeutic preschool program often work very closely together.
Since therapeutic preschool programs are structured to provide additional support in key areas of development, some children in the classroom may have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental delays. In order to provide the most comprehensive care possible for children, a therapeutic preschool program will often create a multidisciplinary team that can address multiple concerns.
For instance, if a child with autism experiences sensory processing issues, they may struggle with self-regulation or self-soothing techniques. Sensory issues may present as either hypersensitivity (heightened sensitivity) or hyposensitivity (decreased sensitivity) to sensory input. If a child is hypersensitive, they may be highly sensitive to different textures of food, extremely sensitive to light, or able to detect even the lowest levels of background noise. If a child is hyposensitive, they may exhibit sensory-seeking behaviors (e.g. running into objects or chewing on clothing) or require deep pressure in order to focus.
All of these sensory integration issues can be addressed by an occupational therapist. However, these behaviors can also impact a child’s ability to develop speech and language skills, so an OT and SLP would coordinate to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for the child. Many children with autism experience sensory processing issues and likely require the assistance of both an OT and SLP.
In the example of children with sensory processing issues, a child may experience delays in acquiring speech and language skills, if unable to self-regulate and focus on their speech therapy lessons. If a child is meeting with an SLP for feeding or swallowing concerns, sensory issues may also impact their ability to eat foods with different textures, flavors, or smells. In these instances, the occupational therapists and SLPs would likely collaborate to work on sensory integration to improve feeding therapy outcomes. Postural stability, a skill that is addressed in OT, also impacts speech, because postural stability impacts the stability of the jaw.
Since OTs and SLPs receive different types of training, they may also approach a development delay differently. Often, this second set of eyes can be extremely beneficial… never underestimate the value of collaboration and communication!
If you think your child could benefit from a therapeutic preschool program that offers both occupational therapy and speech therapy, contact CST Academy at 773-620-7800. We provide a wide range of services and offer an individualized approach to learning!