How to Find the Right Occupational Therapist for Your Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

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right occupational therapy for children

How can you find the best occupational therapy for children near you? If you want to get a motor or sensory evaluation for your child, it can be difficult to vet any medical professional.

However, your child and family’s need for the right occupational therapist is imperative since the OT needs the right experience for your situation. It’s essential to find the right OT for your child, as visits are usually weekly for a year or longer. Let us help you find the right OT for your child.

Different types of pediatric OT

First, it is important to understand OTs specialize in different areas. There are generally 3 types of medial model occupational therapy for children. Motor, feeding, and sensory. Additionally, there is also educational school-based therapy.

Many experienced therapists can treat children with many different difficulties but if you’re looking for the best OT for your child over the age of 3 with SPD you should be looking at a clinic that specializes in sensory processing disorders. These are commonly called “sensory clinics”.

Locations of pediatric occupational therapy

Pediatric occupational therapy for children can be provided in several different locations. Homes, clinics, hospitals, and schools.

Child on stomach over therapy call in occupational therapy

Children’s Hospital Occupational Therapy

Usually, children’s hospitals are focused more on the motor, medical and physical side of OT. Thus they are better for children with cerebral palsy, in wheelchairs, or this who have had accidents.

Specialized Sensory Clinics

These are usually private, smaller clinics in a community. They are usually therapist-owned and run. Many times the owner can be the only therapist. They may or may not take insurance payments.

See below for how to know if a clinic is actually a sensory clinic.

Outpatient therapy from a school

Sometimes special needs schools also offer outpatient occupational therapy for children services. In my experience, these clinics are not specialized in sensory processing issues. They may have some experience but they are not the most ideal for SPD treatment. Also, consider if you are comfortable if the clinic has behavioral ABA approach.

child on therapy swing in OT

OT for children with SPD

Occupational therapy for children with sensory processing disorder is usually referred to as sensory integration therapy. In order to truly provide sensory integration therapy, an OT must have access to a swing connected to the ceiling in one place. Often called a one-point swing. This is usually found in a sensory clinic.

While swings may also be found in a children’s hospital, or even an adult clinic that has some pediatric clients, it does take some advanced training to use this equipment in the most therapeutic way possible.

School OT versus medical OT

The most significant difference between these two models of service is that school-based OTs must address deficits that have an educational impact, while medical-based OTs can address any deficit area for a client, as long as funding sources allow.

School-based therapy focuses on skills necessary for a student while medical-based occupational therapy for children focuses on any skill a child needs to function in their environment.

Under IDEA, Occupational Therapy in the public school system is defined as a “Related Service” and is delivered under the EDUCATIONAL MODEL of therapy.

child with ball pit in occupational therapy

What training should my OT have for working with my child with SPD?

This is where things get a little tricky. There are no special credentials for working with children with SPD. Thus, you can not look up an OTs credentials and say “yes, they are the one!” So how do we find one?

Where to start looking for an OT for your child with SPD

So many parents tell me that they are not happy with the OT they were referred to for their child with SPD. Here are my recommendations for finding great occupational therapy for children with spd.

Finding a good OT if your child is under age 3

If your child is an infant or toddler, start with early intervention. The advantages of starting with early intervention are that it is free and is very parent-coaching focused. Early intervention is provided in the child’s natural environment. That can be at home, daycare, or anywhere else your child is during the day. Parent coaching and natural environment therapy can be advantages or disadvantages for your child and family.

If there is a long waiting list, you are not happy with your therapist, or want more intensive therapy in a sensory clinic you can follow the advice below.

What to expect at your child's OT evaluation Ebook

Learn what to expect at your child’s first occupational therapy visit

Does your child have an OT evaluation scheduled? Learn what to expect!

Finding a good OT for Children with SPD over the age of 3

Ask for a referral from your pediatrician or another healthcare provider

Your pediatrician may know the best OTs in your area that already work with their patients with sensory processing disorder.

Ask your friends and family

Do you know other families with a child with SPD? Referrals are usually the best ways to find a great practitioner.

Child playing with blocks in occupational therapy

Google Pediatric Occupational therapist Near me

Do a Google search for OTs in your area. This is a good place to start. Now what? What are we actually looking for?

Insurance OT Provider Lists

Finally, you can contact your insurance provider to determine which OTs are covered under your plan and if there are any restrictions on which OTs you can select.

What to look for on a clinic’s webpage

There are ways to vet a therapist’s practice by looking at the webpage. If you can not get answers on the website, you can also call and ask.

Clinic Description

Do they mention sensory first and is it a prominent part of their practice?

Do the descriptions or photos show they work with children in your child’s age range?

Equipment photos

Look for photos of the sensory therapy room. In these photos look for gross motor equipment for crashing and climbing. Also, look that they have different types of swings. What you do not want to see is only tables!

Clinic Staff

Is this a 1 therapist or multiple-therapist practice? Who will your child be working with? Read their bios and backgrounds.

Experience

Look for the number of years of experience the therapist has. I recommend looking for therapists with 2 or more years of experience as an OT or COTA working with children.

Training

Working with children with SPD takes experience and training. Do they mention any types of sensory training their clinicians have?

OTR or COTA

OTRs have master’s degrees and certified occupational therapy assistants have associate degrees. They are both licensed therapists.

COTAs are fully focused on learning treatment. If a COTA is experienced working with children with SPD in a sensory clinic they are qualified professionals to work with your child. The only difference is you will first work with the occupational therapist for the evaluation and the OT will write up the therapy plan that the COTA will follow.

Reviews

Look on google, Facebook, and other online review sites. As with any reviews many times those with negative experiences write reviews. Take a look at the owner’s responses and the volume of reviews and complaints and positive reviews before making a decision purely based on the reviews.

Does your child have a hard time staying calm?

Is it a meltdown or a tantrum?

Learn the differences so you can respond with confidence!

Meltdown or tantrum download

Final Thoughts

The best OTs for children with SPD will have access to a sensory room which are usually found in a sensory clinic. They will have worked in a specialized sensory clinic for at least 2 years. Sensory rooms have swings, toys, balls, and other gross motor skills equipment that children with SPD use to move and explore their environment.

Good sensory therapy can make a significant positive impact on your child and your family’s lives. I hope this article helps you find an amazing OT for your child. Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

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