Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy

The main aim of Occupational Therapy is to help people live life to its fullest. The therapists assist with ensuring that the everyday activities or ‘occupations’ that we all take for granted continue to be carried out without the distress and disruption if we are unable to do them for any reason. In the home, such activities might include getting dressed, bathing and going up/down stairs. At school this might include writing, sitting on the floor, or doing P.E. For a child it may even be doing a favourite hobby or meeting friends!

Occupational Therapists or OT’s as they are commonly known, are specially trained to work with children and young people and consider both physical and psychological needs. They often work as part of a multi- disciplinary team and can help children and young people reach their full potential, and to maximise their participation in activities and ensure they are fully included in all areas of life.

JIA can have a profound impact upon a child/young person’s ability to perform every day activities due to physical limitations such as pain, stiffness or fatigue. In addition, it can also impact upon social and emotional wellbeing. A referral to an OT may prove useful in helping to overcome some of these difficulties.

Once referred, the OT will carry out an assessment of daily occupations. This may take place in clinic, at school or in the home. S/he will be keen to analyse particular activities to determine the most appropriate course of action, this may be adapting a particular task, modifying the environment or developing skills.

An individualised, developmentally appropriate programme will then be designed to promote maximum independence and participation. A range of interventions may be offered including play/activity-based activities designed to promote strength or range of motion, they may talk to teachers and suggest strategies to minimise fatigue, or recommend small assistive devices to promote independence. In some instances, they may provide splints, suggest special equipment or adaptations to the home in order to facilitate independence. Occasionally they may prescribe a wheelchair. More commonly the OT will offer advice, teach useful skills and provide tips to enable you to manage your arthritis a little easier. This might include pain management strategies, energy conservation or relaxation skills.

Managing your child’s pain

  • Take a warm bath and allow tense muscles to relax
  • Avoid long periods in the same position
  • Warm clothes on the radiator prior to dressing
  • Try distraction using favourite activities
  • Try some relaxation or mindfulness. (Your OT can give advice and help to practice this).
  • Always remember to take your medicine
  • Discuss pain management with your team
  • Take regular rests and save your energy for important events that you want to do
  • During activities, sit rather than stand
  • Organize work areas such as desks/computer stations to avoid excessive reaching & twisting
  • Plan ahead before going out, find out where the car park /bus stop is and factor in any rest points
  • Try to have good night’s sleep
  • Make time for activity

Tips to help the JIA child at work, rest and play

At School

  • Ensure the Special Education needs Coordinator (SENCO), each school has an appointed SENCO whose role it is to support any child with a special need, and class teacher is aware of your child’s needs
  • Positioning in class is vitally important to ensure their comfort and optimum concentration
  • Arrange any extra time for exams early
  • Make sure you have any necessary equipment/support for their practical sessions
  • Ensure a contingency plan is in place in the event of having to miss school
  • Arrange for the OT to assess your child’s school environment

At Home

  • Make time for relaxation; encourage a tidy your room to ensure your child has a calm environment!
  • Allow them to share any worries they may have, to avoid bottling them up
  • Ask your OT to teach you and your child some relaxation/mindfulness skills
  • Encourage a regular routine of going to bed at the same time, to get a good night’s sleep
  • Get organised and encourage your child to get things ready for school the night before
  • Agree a time to turn off mobile phones and/or tablets
  • Warm their bed with a hot water bottle before bedtime

With Friends

  • Encourage your child to make the time to see their friends; their peers will be really important for helping them through the rough times on their JIA journey
  • Encourage them to share their diagnosis to a few close friends they feel they can trust, they will be important allies for them
  • If your child has a party/special occasion to go to, ensure they have reserved some energy before 
  • Being part of a support group Kids With Arthritis NZ (KWANZ) will let them know they are not along on this JIA journey. There are other children with JIA, just like them.