Do You Know What Your Child is Doing in Their OT Sessions?

By Meggin

I'm going to write this with the knowledge that there will be rebuttals from parents and therapists alike.  I just wanted to throw that out there.  The topic?  Parents involvement in their child's Occupational Therapy (OT) sessions or should I say lack of it.  As a STAR Institute "trained" parent I'm passionate about this mostly because I know what a difference it made for us and our son Jackson regarding success with his therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  I've also been on the other side (not involved in therapy) and have seen the harm it can do.

When Jackson first started therapy at the age of 4 we went to a local clinic. Our OT was amazing and we loved her. There were times at night when he was struggling after a bad day and he would ask for her.  I would sit by his bed and cry with him and wonder why he was asking for his therapist and not me or my husband?  What was she doing with him in therapy that had such an impact on him?  I went back with him to every session.  I watched every move that she made with him through a window. I'd go home and read books, scour the internet, anything to try to find information on how it was helping. When I would ask why she was putting him in the swing or having him play in shaving cream I'd get a generalized answer like, "It's helping to develop his sensory system."  This wasn't much help at 9 p.m. at night when he was having a meltdown.  I felt like we were hamsters on a wheel going nowhere.  We were stuck in a rut, not going forward but definitely moving backward financially paying for therapy we didn't understand and seeing no improvement.  After a few years of this, we quit.  There just had to be something more out there other than me going to graduate school to become an OT to better understand it all.

We decided to go to STAR Institute, and when we arrived we were told that we were expected to attend and be a part of every single one of Jackson's OT sessions. This also included his older brother.  During the sessions we were respectful and didn't interrupt his OT, but she was so amazing.  She would explain things to Jackson during therapy so that while listening, I would learn, too.  "Jackson, I can tell you LOVE the swing!  Do you know why you like it so much?  You love it because....."  I have to admit that Jackson didn't care about the last part of her sentence but I hung onto her every word.  It was like a fine diamond every time that she spoke and I had so many "ah ha" moments just by listening.  I was finally being taught the how and why of sensory OT.  When we returned home, it was life changing for Jackson and our family.  There was no more of not knowing what to do or not knowing what calms him the best or what sets him off.

Because of my non-profit I frequently visit area OT clinics. It never fails that I walk in and the lobby is packed with parents. Some are asleep on the couches getting a nap in, some are on their phones, and others trying their best to listen or see what is going on with their child in the other room.  I want to tell them to get back there with their child!  I want to let them know that they're missing a golden opportunity!  The OTs will say that there are privacy issues, not enough space, that the child will get too distracted with the parent back there.  I get that.  I can also tell you that as a STAR Institute "graduate" it is possible to work around all the negatives.  As the parent you have to find ways to be less distracting. Don't ask questions or interrupt the session.  As for the OT, explain as you go while the parent listens.  Offer privacy forms for parents to sign to protect patient information if it is overheard in a shared area. Does it take a little more time on the therapist's part and take away some of that much needed downtime for the parent in the lobby?  Absolutely!  Is it essential for the success of the parent and child at home? Absolutely!  

Without the parent education piece a platform is created for failure at home.  Spending an hour a week at an OT session and not knowing what they are doing, why they are doing it, or by not being able to see in real time the child's reaction to the therapy activity doesn't teach the parent anything.

Parents, ask your OT to be included in the sessions.  Be respectful while you're in there.  Save your questions until the end or write them down and shoot the therapist an email later on.  Observation is the best way to soak in what's going on. Remember the phrase, "Silence is golden" and apply it when observing a session.

Therapists, thank you for allowing us as parents to come into your space.  We promise to behave and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your knowledge and for loving our children.  Please invite parents into your therapy sessions. I promise that it really is life changing for families when you do.  We can all learn from each other. The winner in the end are our SPD kids and who can ask for more than that?

If you are looking for SPD treatment for yourself or your child fill out a child or adult intake form now to be treated at STAR Institute Treatment Center or search our Treatment Directory to find services in your area.

Meggin profile picture

Meggin has recently achieved a long term goal of founding a non-profit organization, Sensational Hope (, which provides community awareness about SPD in the Kansas City Metro Area. It connects families as well as assists children with SPD in the purchase of needed therapy equipment. Meggin resides in the Kansas City area with her husband of 15 years, Erich, her two sons, Bryce and Jackson, her two furry children (dogs) Chance and Sadie, two Rabbits (Max and Bailey), and last but not least, 10 fish.  Meggin is honored to blog for the STAR Institute and is looking forward to connecting with other SPD families.