How Occupational Therapists Help Children with Autism

How Occupational Therapists Help Children with Autism

April is Occupational Therapy Month, and Light it up Blue for Autism is April 2nd. Just as these events coincide, occupational therapy and autism often go together as well. And this combination usually means lots of fun!

What is autism?

Autism refers to a spectrum of disorders that affect the areas of the brain that control social behavior and communication skills. Some common symptoms of autism include the following: Sensory processing disorder (i.e., difficulties handling the information coming in from the senses: light, sounds, smells, touch, taste/texture), trouble transitioning from one environment or one person to another (people with autism like their schedules and do not like change!), trouble interacting with other people, trouble communicating, and difficulties with fine motor skills such as handwriting.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy focuses on a person’s activities of daily living (such as eating and getting dressed), safety in moving around in his environment, and his ability to participate in educational, home, play, and community settings.

How can an occupational therapist help a child with autism?

With a child who has autism, an occupational therapist works with parents, teachers, and other professionals as a team to set specific goals for that child. Such goals may target sensory processing, transitioning, handwriting, limited diet, and/or oral fixation. An occupational therapist can help a child with autism to modify his environment or activities to meet his needs or abilities. This may mean changing the child’s home or school environment to cut down on distractions or identifying and practicing skills he needs to successfully complete activities. An occupational therapist can also help a child learn strategies to limit or lessen the intensity of meltdowns caused by sensory overload or the inability to communicate effectively. A child with autism might also have difficulties with motor planning, meaning he has a hard time learning new skills. In this case, an occupational therapist can help the child with a variety of skills ranging from climbing playground equipment to tying his shoes.

What are some therapy activities an occupational therapist may use?

An occupational therapist will use lots of fun activities to help a child with autism! This may include swinging, spinning, playing in a ball pit, wheelbarrow walking, ball toss games, listening to music, jumping, dancing, rolling on an exercise ball, being rolled up in a hammock, food play, writing in shaving cream, playing with Play-doh or putty, and more! In short, the occupational therapist will try to make each child’s therapy experiences as much fun as possible.

How Occupational Therapists Help Children with Autism
Teresa Davis, M.S. CCC-SLP

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