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Occupational therapy for children with autism

Occupational therapy for children with autism

Occupational therapy (OT) helps children with autism to improve their ability to communicate, play, and take care of themselves as much as possible. Children with autism often display strong emotional reactions to unexpected changes. As a result, they could start talking faster and louder, increase movements, or flap their hands.

Occupational therapy is usually integrated into their treatment plan to help them manage sensory input better and build skills needed to complete their everyday activities. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the role of occupational therapy for children with autism. But first, let’s look at what occupational therapy is. 

What is occupational therapy for autism?

Occupational therapy aims to promote, maintain, and improve the skills needed by children with autism to go about their daily activities, such as school and social situations, in the best way possible. 

Children who have physical challenges from disorders such as traumatic brain injury or cerebral palsy can benefit from OT.

An occupational therapy session involves the following stages:

  • Evaluation – In this stage, the occupational therapist identifies the goals of the child and their family.
  • Creating a customized intervention plan – The next stage is to develop an intervention plan tailored to meet the child’s needs and help them achieve their goals.
  • Continuous assessment – The child needs to be continuously assessed to see if the interventions are effective and to monitor if the desired results are being achieved through the sessions. The treatment plan may be altered as needed to ensure maximum results. 

Occupational therapy takes a holistic approach to the treatment of disorders like autism. The treatment aims to create an environment where children with autism work better. It may include services like assessing their school, or home environment and making the necessary changes to ensure the setting suits their needs. 

Occupational therapy also includes training programs on how children with autism can use adaptive tools and how family and caregivers can play a role. The treatment is customized to improve your child’s cognitive, social, physical, and motor skills. 

The role of occupational therapy for children with autism 

Occupational therapy is widely used for the treatment of autism due to its high success rate in alleviating sensory processing conditions. Children with autism struggle to process sensory information, which often leaves them overwhelmed, not knowing what to focus on and what to ignore. This overload usually leads to meltdowns and other behaviors that may cause self-harm. 

With the help of occupational therapy, children with autism can know what information is irrelevant. Various therapy activities are implemented to target the different sensory systems. 

Over time, your child’s sensory system will improve and they will respond better to the environment. This will ultimately help your child to perform better in their daily activities. 

Who are occupational therapists?

Occupational therapists are people who have completed a master’s degree, passed the national certification exam, and received their license to practice. Their education and training involve evaluating, creating, and implementing the best treatment plans for their clients to ensure the best possible results.  

The treatment plans often involve the occupational therapist working closely with a child with autism, as well as their parents, caregivers, siblings, and teachers. After observing your child and collecting relevant information (such as eating habits, sleeping habits, daily living skills, etc.) from you and your child’s teachers, the therapist will create a customized intervention plan that works for your child. 

The functions of an occupational therapist include:

  • Evaluating your child 
  • Consulting and working with family members, caregivers, teachers, and other members of the treatment team
  • Recommending further evaluations and services as needed
  • Making necessary changes to the treatment plan as needed

Performing the roles mentioned above allows the occupational therapist to involve the community in the treatment of children with autism. 

One of the main advantages of occupational therapy evaluation is that it allows for the early detection of autism. If the diagnosis is made early enough, the occupational therapist can recommend treatments that may be more effective. 

Occupational therapists can offer their services in schools, behavioral health programs, day programs, and in private practice. 

How occupational therapy for autism works

A typical occupational therapy session takes between 30 to 60 minutes. The sessions are conducted a few times depending on the treatment plan and set goals. 

The occupational therapist works with the child to complete tasks designed to achieve the desired results. The goal is to get the child with autism to apply the skills learned to the various challenges they encounter in their everyday activities.

Parents, caregivers, and teachers can also receive training on the different intervention measures they can take when the child is under their care. The cooperation between them and the occupational therapist is crucial as repetition is important in ensuring the child masters the skills. 

What occupational therapy interventions may involve

A wide range of intervention plans can be implemented to meet the desired goals. These interventions often include activities that entertain children and keep them engaged while addressing the issue at hand. 

Here are a few examples of OT interventions:

  • Sensory bins - A sensory bin containing household items in different shapes and textures can help develop your child’s language, visual, and motor skills. 
  • Video clips - Choose clips from your child’s favorite cartoon that illustrate certain social skills and have them watch them. You can later ask your child if they understood what the characters were doing, what was running through their mind, and how they understood the clip. 
  • Simon says - You can use this game to address a number of skills issues. Playing this game with your child will help them to practice movements that promote creativity, coordination, social, and awareness skills. You can have them play the game so you can engage in perspective-talking. 
  • Playdough - Making playdough with your child can also be a great way to solve a few challenges associated with autism. Work through the dough together with your child, following instructions and learning how to control emotions. 
  • Draw a person - Get some art supplies and draw a person with your child. Let your child choose what the person should look like. This will improve your child’s orientation, awareness, emotions, vision, and motor skills.

Final words

Occupational therapy is one of the most effective ways to help children with autism improve their daily lives and decrease the daily challenges associated with autism. 

Through customized occupational therapy interventions, children with autism can improve their social and behavioral skills. Children and even adults with autism can benefit from occupational therapy interventions.

OT can be tailored to help children with autism develop the skills needed to live independent lives. In most cases, it is usually incorporated into a comprehensive treatment plan. Speech therapy and behavioral analysis therapy usually form part of children with autism’s treatment plans. 

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