If you’re at your wits end trying to deal with a difficult child by yourself or you’re not seeing results with current treatment you might be relieved to discover that occupational therapy, psychology and even a dietician can help you understand the root of the problem and help your child with behavioural or emotional issues.
Whilst it’s nice to have a diagnosis, your child doesn’t have to be diagnosed with a label such as ADHD, conduct disorder or oppositional defiance disorder before you reach out looking for help.
Where to start looking for solutions and answers
If you’re just starting out on your journey and looking for answers and solutions the best place to start is with your child’s GP or paediatrician to rule out any health issues contributing to their problem behaviour. They can help you decide whether occupational therapy vs. psychology is the best option for your child. In some cases, a referral from your child’s doctor to an occupational therapist, psychologist or other practitioner may qualify for some financial assistance from Medicare to help cover some of the costs of ongoing treatment.
Health conditions that can lead to or worsen behavioural problems in kids include:
- Glue ear
- Endocrine and metabolic problems such as diabetes and thyroid problems
- Digestive problems such encopresis or ‘sneaky poos’ leading to frequent soiling of pants at school, home or in public
- Sleep issues such as sleep apnoea due to allergies, enlarged adenoids or congenital structural problems of the mouth and nose
Despite its slightly misleading name your child does not to have an occupation to benefit from occupational therapy! Occupational therapy helps kids improve their cognitive (thinking, reasoning and remembering), physical, motor and sensory skills. This can help to improve their self-esteem and give them a sense of accomplishment.
An occupational therapist will identify and address any social, environmental and psychological factors contributing to your child’s behavioural problems.
Occupational therapy can help with:
- Teaching your child how to maintain positive behaviours in a range of different settings and situations instead of lashing out in anger or frustration
- Helping your child improve their social skills and ability to focus
- Improving motor skills and hand eye co-ordination to help with handwriting and co-ordination during play and sports – all of which help to build self confidence in the classroom and social settings
A psychologist can help your child develop resilience and better stress coping skills, problem solving abilities and assist with a range of behavioural and emotional problems. Seeing psychologist can be particularly helpful if behavioural or emotional problems start or worsen as a result of stressful life events such as:
- Death of a family member, friend or even a beloved family pet
- A serious or chronic illness in another family member or your child
- Moving house, school or countries
- Accidents or trauma such a car accident or witnessing an accident
The Royal Prince Alfred’s Allergy Unit pioneered the recognition and treatment of food chemical sensitivity as a contributing factor in certain cases of behavioural problems, irritability, restlessness, sleep issues and ADHD.
Food chemicals can be naturally occurring chemicals in healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables or they can be artificial food additives such as colourings and preservatives. They include natural food chemicals such as salicylates, amines and glutamates. In certain people, these chemicals are cleared slowly from the body and can build up and irritate the nervous system and cause drug like reactions.
Working with a dietician trained and experienced with the RPAH Elimination Diet is important. If you suspect that food chemicals may be a contributing factor or want to learn more about the role of food chemicals in behavioural problems, the book Fed Up by Australian dietician, Sue Dengate, is a great place to start.
Trust your gut and your instincts
You don’t have to have an official diagnosis to seek help. Trust your gut and your instincts if you feel your child needs help – or you need help with your child. Early intervention with occupational therapy, psychology or a dietician can help to prevent emotional and behavioural problems escalating and affecting the rest of the family, your child’s self-confidence and their school grades.