The occupation of a child is play. Sometimes, when certain problems stand between a child and normal play, the help of an occupational therapist is needed. The University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions is completing its first year of providing this type of help for children through a clinic staffed entirely by occupational therapy students, supervised by a licensed therapist. The pediatric clinic is providing early intervention for children and a place for students to get hands-on experience in their field of study.

\"In the past, services were often not provided to children until they were of school age. Research shows that early intervention is best because the brain is more capable of change during that period of time. So, especially for children with long-term issues, early intervention can help address any challenges a child may be experiencing before they are set and become an even greater hurdle,\" said Lea Ann Brittain, clinical instructor of occupational therapy and clinic coordinator.

The clinic provides evaluations for children of all ages, but the majority are of pre-school age. Brittain said the children could experience anything from difficulty with handwriting and dressing themselves to poor coordination and fine motor skills. The evaluation helps pinpoint the problem and the cause. Children in need of occupational therapy range from children with cerebral palsy or autism spectrum disorders to prematurity or developmental delay. Occupational therapy uses purposeful activities to promote the greatest possible function in performing daily tasks.

\"If a child is a year old and not using a fork, then that is not an issue; however, if a four-year-old child is not using a fork, then that is a problem,\" Brittain said. \"People really underestimate the amount of stress these types of delays can cause for families. We are just one element. What really helps kids is people coming together - parents, other community and therapy supports and schools.\"

The clinic also complements the work being done at the School of Health Profession\'s Robert G. Combs Language Preschool. Brittain said those students involved in collaboration with other disciplines really learn the benefits of working as a team.

\"Students demonstrate much better clinical reasoning and understand what is realistic to expect,\" Brittain said. \"These real-world scenarios also teach them how to work with families and kids with special needs.\"

University of Missouri
329 Jesse Hall
Columbia, MO 65211-1280
United States