No Apps: Why we promote relationship over apps in OT intervention with our kids

A few years ago, I was approached by a preschool to provide OT services to Jane, a child with a diagnosis of Selective Mutism. I had yet to work with anyone with this diagnosis, so I turned to the research. The Selective Mutism Association provided me with great information, explaining that the core issue of this diagnosis and challenge in expressive language was rooted in anxiety.

Mother and Daughter Hugging

It was the start of a theme of research that lead me to consider how many of our clients have anxiety at the root of their functional needs. Whether it’s struggling to stay seated at carpet time, not knowing how to enter a social situation or lacking the ability to experience and grow in play, anxiety – where the child’s midbrain is in constant fight of flight – is a real issue for our young people.

In OT and at home, secure relationships are the beginning

Dr Dan Siegel offers a great explanation of this principle in his book The Whole Brain Child, (2011). His approach to teaching parents about the neuroscience behind achieving the “just right” zone in a child, is one that we embrace wholeheartedly at Spring OT. As Dr. Siegel explains, the midbrain is best regulated by the steady presence of a calm adult, a state called co-regulation. This is where we start, as a base, for most families entering therapy.

Dr. Kim Barthel, another mentor of ours at the clinic, devotes her current practice and leadership to the neurobiology of relationship. Her amazing work supports that of Dr. Siegel, and provides yet more science-based research on why we need to look at ensuring each of our clients is regulated – they’ve found the “just right” zone through relationship, leaving apps far behind.

It was with these explanations that I began treatment with Jane and her family. Dad especially, wanted apps for his daughter to use at home, for continuing therapy. In consultation with Jane’s exceptional Speech-Language Pathologist, we agreed that the first step in therapy was to promote co-regulation, that is changing Jane’s midbrain from fight of flight to a calm, steady state through relationship.

Beginning with simple, tech free games that promote a serve and return between the parent and child (ie. row row row your boat, hand stacking towers, making a pillow fort, even sitting on a porch swing), we could begin to help Jane achieve calm, and then begin more specific therapy goals.

Apps can’t replace relationships

While there are a lot of things apps are great for, helping children find the “just right” zone isn’t one of them. Spring OT helps children (and their families) who may be falling behind in development, in cognition or motor skills. If that sounds like your child, feel free to give us a call or book an assessment.