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Occupational Therapy for Pediatric Heart Patients

What is Occupational Therapy for Pediatric Heart Patients?

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

The occupational therapist (OT) works with children of all ages that have complex heart issues. The OT can provide treatment to help in the following areas:

  • Feeding skills
  • Developmental and motor performance
  • Fine motor skills
  • Activities of daily living
  • Self-help skills
  • Play skills
  • Eye hand coordination
  • Thinking skills
  • Visual skills
  • Sensory skills
  • Wheelchair and adaptive equipment needs
  • Postural control and positioning
  • Level of arousal and responsiveness
  • Range of motion
  • Strength
  • Endurance

The OT will also address the child’s positioning and environment to help them be more successful in the above areas. The OT will teach the caregivers tips and strategies to help them feel comfortable working with their child at home.

Feeding Problems

Children with heart problems can have trouble eating. This can be due to poor endurance, abnormal muscle tone, decreased interest in eating, problems sucking, muscle weakness, or difficulty coordinating swallowing and breathing.

Signs and Symptoms of Feeding Problems

  • Lack of interest in feeding
  • Overact or underact when something touches their mouth
  • Cry or fuss more when eating
  • Get tired quickly during feeding
  • Problems sucking, swallowing, and breathing when eating
  • Cough, choke, or gag when eating
  • Fast or irregular breathing during or after eating
  • Wet or noisy breathing during or after eating

Diagnosing Feeding Problems

The OT can do an oral-motor evaluation at your child’s bedside to look at:

  • The structure of their mouth and how they hold their body when eating
  • How they move the areas around their mouth (tongue, jaw, cheeks, and lips)
  • How they respond to things around or in their mouth
  • How the child’s lips close
  • How well the child breathes and how their breathing changes when they eat
  • How they react to the OT during the test

If your child shows signs that they are unable to protect their airway when eating, a video swallow study (VSS) or fiber optic endoscopic evaluation (FEES) may be done. These tests can find problems with body structure that can lead to problems swallowing.

Treatment for Feeding Problems

After the bedside evaluation, the OT will make a plan to care for your child while they are in the hospital. This plan may include:

  • Finding nipple or feeding tools that help your child
  • Helping to pace your child when eating
  • Trying to improve your child’s interests in eating
  • Trying new ways to position your child when eating
  • Stimulating the area in or around their mouth
  • Starting a plan and schedule to help them eat
  • Providing parent teaching

Muscle Weakness, Positioning, and Motor Skills

Treatment for problems related to muscle weakness, positioning and motor skills may include:

  • Splinting
  • Programs to help with:
  • Range of motion, strength and body control
  • Fine motor, visual motor and coordination skills
  • Increasing play and sensory processing skills
  • Independence
  • Positioning
  • Parent teaching

Additionally, an OT may suggest testing to monitor your child’s development.

When your child is ready to leave the hospital, an OT will talk to you about whether your child needs to continue to see an OT at an office or in your home to continue to grow their skills.

Contact Us

Contact Cincinnati Children's Heart Institute

Last Updated 05/2021

Reviewed By Kelly Bonarrigo, DPT

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