September 3, 2015

occcupational-therapist-literacy-childrenLiteracy, by definition, is the ability to read and write.  Literacy permeates everything we do in life – reading directions, doing homework, writing a check, reading road signs, paying bills, and so much more.  In most cases when a child has difficulty with literacy, a parent or teacher may seek an evaluation from a Speech Language Pathologist (speech therapist); however, they should consider a referral to an Occupational Therapist.

An Occupational Therapist (OT) focuses on assisting children to become increasingly independent at school, home, and out in the community despite impairments or limitations in physical or mental functioning.  Occupational Therapists assist the children they work with to engage in activities of daily life in which literacy is embedded.  Occupational Therapists often use task analysis to help the children they work with to achieve a skill.  Task analysis involves breaking down a skill into the smaller steps or pieces.  After breaking down the task, the OT then addresses each smaller step of the task to promote independence with the overall skill.

The three main cognitive skills of visual processing, auditory processing and verbal reasoning are all part of the main task of literacy.

Visual processing is the ability to scan & process visual information and symbols.  Children having difficulty with visual processing may have difficulty tracking pictures and letters in a story.  They may confuse letters and have difficulty naming them or consistently reverse letters. Children who demonstrate difficulty with visual processing may also have difficulty with patterns and distinguishing similarities and differences in size, shape, form, position or color when looking at pictures.

Auditory processing is the ability to process and understand what one hears.  Auditory processing is utilized in literacy because children often say the word to themselves and listen to others read aloud.  Children having difficulty with auditory processing may have difficulty recalling a short story or sequence of words.  They may not be able to discriminate between sounds and words.

Verbal reasoning is the ability to understand and read words.   Children with difficulty with verbal reasoning often have difficulty comprehending what they or others have read.  They may have difficulty understanding multiple meanings or comprehending non-literal meanings.   OTs can assist in identifying problems in these areas and provide treatment to remediate problems with literacy.

An Occupational Therapist’s treatment session would focus on topics that interest the child while incorporating tools to strengthen the child’s weakness and teach them compensatory skills.  The following are additional ways parents can help their children succeed with literacy skills.

  • Play visual tracking games (“I spy”, “Where’s Waldo”, etc.)
  • Sing songs about letters and words (Color songs, alphabet song, etc.)
  • Incorporate letters and words into daily conversation (Oh there is a bird.  The bird is blue.  Blue is spelled B-L-U-E)
  • Practice writing in different mediums such as play dough, shaving cream, and sand.

Contact your local Epic office to find out more about how occupational therapists can help your child.

Christa M. Connor, OTR
Occupational Therapy Supervisor
Epic Pediatric Therapy – College Station