Can You Give a Kid Too Much Therapy?
Therapy: You hear it's what your child needs. Speech/language therapy because he doesn't have 50 words yet. Or he isn't "processing" what is being said properly. Or maybe because he cannot be understood when he speaks. Occupational therapy. You need to address her sensory skills and her handwriting. Plus she cannot tie her shoes or button her pants. Behavioral supports. For the meltdowns we experience when we least expect it. At the grocery store. Or the park. Or a restaurant. Anywhere, really. Social skills classes, play therapy, vision therapy, academic support. The list goes on.
So what does your child need? And when?
My name is Robyn Colley. I’m a mom and I happen to also be an occupational therapist. I started doing this 20 years ago, when I thought I could help every child and every family I met. I thought therapy was a superpower that could move mountains. I thought parents should do it all. I've grown up a little since then. I have two kids of my own, each with their own personal journeys. Navigating those special-need journeys is hard. Over the years I’ve learned that therapists can’t fix everything, but can provide the one thing parents need more than anything else – support.
Generally speaking, by the time I see a child, it's already been determined that they could benefit from OT. However, I always complete an assessment to get a full picture. We look at sensory processing, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, etc.
Some parents are surprised when I do not recommend OT right away, even if their child has a need. It’s all about priorities. What if there are bigger fish to fry? What if other therapies need to come first? This, in my opinion, is my most important job. Kids don't come with road maps. Kids with special needs definitely don't come with roadmaps. It is my responsibility to assess the skills I'm supposed to assess. It is my privilege to be able to guide parents to help them determine where to start and what to do next. Many times that does involve OT. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I ask parents to start somewhere and call me in six months.
The parents are the captains of the ship. They want to do it all. They are getting advice from every which way, which can be overwhelming. But you can not do it all, and in my opinion, you should not do it all at once. When considering therapies, please consider all the details – cost, time, and effects on other members of the family. Also, consider this: therapies come with homework – exercises and things to help ‘cement’ in all the good work your child is doing. If you are spending your week running to all of the appointments, are you able to also do the homework expected of you? It may be better to choose one therapy at a time, two at most, in order to make good use of your child’s time and your resources. In order to fit it all in and not feel resentful.
As overwhelming as it can be to be handed a diagnosis, please know, the professionals you choose to join your support network are there to help you create your roadmap. While that map may offer twists and turns you do not expect, you and your child will gain valuable information and experiences along the way to help you get to your next destination.