Occupational therapists are taught to find the “just right challenge” for children with sensory integration challenges. I find it’s the way to think about progressing with all children for any fine motor, visual motor or sensory related difficulties. Finding the “just right challenge” for your child is one of my favorite things to do and I do this every session-all session long.
My wheels are always turning, trying to figure out how to change a task to meet your child where they are, then push them just enough but keep it fun whether I am helping them build tolerance swinging on the gym favorite “rainbow swing”, closing and opening buttons, tying their shoe, holding their pencil correctly or writing their name on the line.
It is a goal of mine every session to provide your child with challenges that empower them that show them they are able to improve, to succeed and that they are allowed to be themselves! I continue to meet your child where they are at that time, on that day. We work together to make a plan for our session, giving them a push to challenge them so that they can be successful and productive each session.
How do you discover the “just right challenge”? It’s all about trial and error. Start with a task, then modify (add more or take away some part of the challenge) to get to that happy medium between too easy, which can lead to “I’m bored”, or “I’m so good at this I don’t need to try,” or too difficult, which can lead to defeat- “I can’t do this” or “this is too hard for me, I give up”. You make little changes over the course of several attempts at a target activity.
For example, if I am working on a handwriting goal like staying on the lines when writing, I may start with a raised border (like a small chalkboard or raised line paper), then a dark bold line, then large double lined paper to provide extra cues about size of letters, and so on until the child has reached an age appropriate level. I may also use extra gestural or visual cues like pointing, highlighting or dots to make sure I am providing a “just right challenge.”
The “just right challenge” continually evolves and becomes more complex so that when your child leaves a therapy session, they are not upset or feeling let down, but instead are empowered and proud of their accomplishments. They are learning that challenges are okay! They don’t have to be frustrating; they don’t have to lead to tears, fear or refusal to participate. If you have questions about your child’s goals or the steps we are taking to reach them, ask your therapist during the last five minutes of therapy!
We love to brag on your child and let you know how they are doing with us so that you can continue to help them progress and succeed at home. I know some of the accomplishments may seem small at the time, but the goals we initially develop are typically long term and are based on what we know your child will be able to accomplish if we take the “just right” steps to get there!