How Does Occupational Therapy Help Kids with Autism?

June 2, 2018
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If your child is diagnosed with autism, one of your first courses of action is to find treatments to help them adapt to the world around them. Of course, your child’s doctor will be able to point you to some of your best options to kick off your search.

However, as you research your different options, you will learn that some treatments work better than others or have been around longer so they have more research behind them. These can range from types of therapies and different treatments that can help your child.

The treatment that we are going to look at today is occupational therapy. What is occupational therapy? Can it help your child with autism? How does it work? In this article, we are going to answer all these questions and help you learn everything you need to know about utilizing occupational therapy for kids with autism.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Naturally, the first question that comes up when looking into occupational therapy is what is it? Well, according to The American Occupational Therapy Association, occupational therapy helps people throughout their lifespans to live life to the fullest. In other words, the focus of occupational therapy is to address not only whatever problem that the individual is having but how they can live their lives the way that they want, taking into account external factors such as environmental, psychological, and social situations.

Of course, different types of therapies have different focuses, making them the perfect choice for some individuals while other individuals might find that a certain type of therapy doesn’t address their needs. What makes occupational therapy good for autistic children, though, is that it’s focused on helping people with physical, cognitive, and/or sensory disabilities.

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A Specialized Approach

One mistake that can be made in helping children with autism is to think that the symptoms of autism will manifest similarly in all children with autism. On the contrary, though, not only is every child unique but autism exists on a spectrum. This means that no treatment is a one-size-fits-all idea.

When a child starts occupational therapy, though, most therapists will have the family fill out a questionnaire. Not only will this give the family a chance to discuss the child’s symptoms but it’s also a chance for the therapist to learn more about the child’s environment. This is just the first step in specializing the therapy to the child to obtain the best results.

Sensory Processing

For the vast majority of children with autism, sensory processing a difficulty. This is why many autistic children are prone to “meltdowns” when their environments get to be too much. However, with occupational therapy, it is possible for autistic children to learn to handle stimuli better.

This usually works two ways. First, the occupational therapist (OT) will likely suggest things that can be changed in the environment that will make a child more comfortable like tips to make their room into a safe haven. In addition, though, they will also work with the child on strategies to help handle stimuli in a more beneficial way.

Social Skills

Another issue that many autistic children have is a difficulty in relating to and forming relationships with their peers. One way that occupational therapy can help this is to help autistic children learn social cues. For example, maintaining eye contact when speaking and reading body language are some skills that would help an autistic child in a social situation.

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An OT can also help a child to learn to process and recognize emotion. These skills can be taught in a variety of ways but many OTs will depend on tools such as videos and reinforce the ideas with games, role-playing activities, and direct practice between the therapist and child.

Motor Skills

There are two main types of motor skills: gross and fine. Gross motor skills are large movements – like walking – while fine motor skills are the more detailed movements kids learn to do such as writing their name.

Depending on the child, autism can cause delays in development for either or both types of motor skills. An OT can help to create specialized practice and exercises that will help your child to develop their motor skills faster than they would left to their own devices.

How Do You Access Occupational Therapy?

So, if you decide that you think occupational therapy is a good choice for your child, how do you go about obtaining it? Well, there are actually a couple options.

For many autistic children, occupational therapy is a part of their education. This is because in the United States, it is required by public law for children with disabilities who need it.

Of course, though, a therapy that only works inside a school day is a little limited by its environment. This is why many families decide to invest in private occupational therapy as well. With the help of your child’s pediatrician and the valuable reference of online materials, it isn’t as hard as you’d think to find a specialist that is dedicated to their profession and able to help your child.