Occupational Therapy after Pediatric Stroke

Pediatric stroke rehabilitation generally includes occupational therapy to help children achieve independence with daily living skills when facing the effects of stroke. Occupational therapy also helps to restore upper extremity functioning after stroke.

Infants, children, teens and young adults seen in our Pediatric Stroke Program clinic will work with occupational therapists (OTs) who are specially trained in managing pediatric stroke. Our dedicated Stroke Program OTs work together with your family and the larger clinic team to help identify problems and meaningful goals, and to develop a plan of care that best meets your child’s needs.

How occupational therapy can help your child after a stroke

Occupational therapy treatment plans for stroke can include activities and exercises you can do with your child at home, OT services within the CHOP system, or recommendations for splints and braces (orthoses) and other targeted therapies that can be provided by a local therapist.

Our OTs aim to heal and rehabilitate the damage caused by stroke, as well as increase your child’s participation in self-care, play, sports, music, and other meaningful activities. Sometimes this involves teaching your child how to do things in different ways. When there are no obvious concerns, our OTs can help you understand things to watch for as your child grows.

Limited function of the upper extremities (shoulders, arms, hands, wrists) after a stroke is one challenge often managed by OT. It is very common to have a hard time getting your child to use their more affected arm or hand after a stroke. Our OTs work with your family to help focus on what your child can do, and build on those skills slowly and gradually over time. This helps improve self-esteem, parent-child relationships and quality of life, all while encouraging more frequent use of the affected hand/arm.

Our OT team continues to work on developing better ways to overcome these common problems related to upper extremity function.

Pediatric stroke occupational therapy services

  • Goal-directed therapy (sometimes called task-oriented approach): An evidence-based approach to therapy involving strategic practice to achieve goals meaningful to you and your child.
  • Bimanual therapy: Focuses on using two hands together in natural patterns through the use of motivating activities. For example, this therapy approach can help teach a child how to coordinate their hands together to zipper a jacket, pour a cup of milk, or play a game a cards. Learn about our specialized camp that uses bimanual therapy to help children develop fine and gross motor skills.
  • Splints and braces (orthoses) to treat and prevent soft tissue contractures (tight muscles and tendons).
  • Splints or braces to help your child use or strengthen his/her hand.
  • Strengthening and conditioning.
  • Retraining of life skills.
  • Assistive technology: This can include one-handed ponytail devices, a tool to help your child button a shirt, or tools to help your child cut food.
  • Compensatory and/or adaptive techniques: This involves teaching your child how to complete tasks in new ways. For example, dressing an upper extremity affected by stroke first often makes it easier for a child to put a shirt on independently.
  • Aquatic therapy: Specially trained occupational therapists can use water in certain cases to assist with movements and skills in ways that cannot be done on land. Aquatic therapy can help some children learn coordination and body awareness in a fun and relaxing environment.
  • Promoting fine motor skills and upper extremity use for daily activities.
  • Sensory processing: After a stroke, some children can be more or less sensitive to touch against their weaker upper extremity. OTs can help retrain a child’s sense of touch.  
  • Therapies to help with play skills and cognitive skills (thinking and reasoning).
  • Therapies to compensate for and/or improve vision-related skills.
  • Assistance with individualized school and work plans.
  • Robotic training to improve upper extremity function.