An Interview with Pediatric Occupational Therapist Tobey Lovett
For young children, development is a marathon – not a sprint.
Tobey Lovett, a mother and pediatric occupational therapist, has seen cases of motor skill development delays that are present in children that have an abbreviated crawling phase, or skip it all together thanks to baby standing frames. Tobey said, “Motor challenges are the product of babies being put into standers at 5 – 6 months, and skipping the crawling phase of development and walking earlier. The reciprocal movement in crawling forms a lot of neural connections in the brain that are skipped when there is no crawling phase.” She also hypothesizes that “an underlying cause could be the popularity of video games with children growing up now, instead of engaging in activities that keep them physically active. Visual motor skills (hand – eye coordination) could also be affected by the amount of time that children spend in front of a screen.”
The most common challenges children that Tobey works with face are weakness through the child’s core muscles, and weakness through their hands. This is a reason why the children usually have poor handwriting: it’s related to the lack of muscles in their hand to control the force and direction of the pencil. Her main goal with any child that she treats is to make them able to be more independent, and develop age appropriate skills: dressing and feeding themselves, washing, eating, etc. A lot of people take for granted the challenges that children with motor skill deficiencies face on a regular school day: lunch can be challenging because of the lack of motor skills or strength to cut food; gym can be challenging because of the lack of strength to perform the exercises or activities; Art can be difficult because of the lack of motor skills required to draw.
As a pediatric occupational therapist working with children with significant behavioral issues, it is sometimes tough to get them to a state where they are ready to participate, engage, and be in a place where they are ready to learn because they have sensory processing systems that are so deregulated. To combat this, Tobey first figures out what specific areas of development are lacking. She then learns what is motivating for each child, because if the activities are too challenging, they will shut down; if it’s too easy they won’t get any benefit. “For younger children we focus on the overall strengthening of muscles to hold pencils, crayons, scissors, etc.; sensory processing, and learning proper behaviors. Their sensory systems usually aren’t regulated enough to really participate in school, which leads to hyperactivity, outbursts, and behavioral issues. Swinging is a great way to regulate the sensory system. It makes children more focused, attentive, and less hyperactive. When working in a school setting we usually focus on school related goals, like the different nuances of handwriting: letter formation, spaces between words, and spaces between letters.”
When asked if Tobey had any advice or parting words for parents, she said, “I think Gym1 is beneficial for all children, not just children that have any sort of delay. Swinging is one of the ultimate tools that a parent or therapist can use in helping their child achieve an optimal level of focus and organization to be able to learn anything throughout the day. So many aspects of development – building confidence, motor planning, and whole body coordination can be improved by swinging. Any child will be interested in physical activity if it is made fun for them; you just need to find the right tools to motivate them. I don’t believe any child is inherently lazy. It’s our job to find the right motivation and challenge for each child based on personality and level of skill.”