Occupational therapy is commonly associated with physical disabilities but did you know it’s a great tool for neurological disorders? In this blog on occupational therapy for autism, we’ll look at the following:
- Understanding occupational therapy in autism care
- Occupational therapy techniques for autistic adults
- Collaborative approaches in occupational therapy
- Overcoming challenges: Insights from therapists
- Resources and support for families and caregivers
- The future of occupational therapy for autism
Understanding Occupational Therapy in Autism Care
Occupational therapy (OT) is a valuable intervention method for people with autism. This approach is centered on cultivating essential skills required for daily living, offering support in areas where individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often encounter challenges.
The areas that occupational therapy for autism targets include:
- Social skills
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Sensory integration
These specific focal points in OT are pivotal in enhancing daily activity and quality of life.
Occupational Therapy Techniques for Autistic Adults
Some common and effective OT techniques for autism include reworking tasks to cater to a person’s needs and preferences and social participation through peer activities and work groups.
There are many methods used in OT, and the best choice for you or your loved one will come down to your specific needs and what works best for you. For hands-on learners, occupational therapists may work with different techniques than visual learners.
Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory integration therapy teaches individuals how to use all of their senses. This aids in reducing challenging behavior and compulsions or repetitions by providing more sensory outlets to regulate the nervous system.
Many autistic people struggle with sensory overstimulation and may need to do activities that are less intense to the senses. Sensory integration therapy can increase the intensity of specific sensory stimuli over time to try and overcome sensory processing issues (e.g., incorporating quicker-paced music to a session and trying different flavors of candy to expand taste preferences).
Cognitive behavioral therapy in OT looks at present challenges and the emotional and mental barriers that must be altered to overcome these. For example, if a consumer is struggling with masking their autism, a qualified occupational therapist can look at the underlying thoughts that are leading them to want to hide their ASD. By altering these thoughts, potentially harmful behaviors like excessive suppression used in masking may change.
Collaborative Approaches in Occupational Therapy
Our OT is never an exclusive service restricted to the therapist and the consumer. We believe family, caretakers, and other professionals should also be involved. By taking a collaborative approach to our treatment plans, we’ve seen consumers grow exponentially in their skill sets and self-confidence.
Overcoming Challenges: Insights from Therapists
Eleanor Clarke Slagle is known as the mother of Occupational Therapy and organized the first educational program for occupational therapists (OTs). Regarding others
wishing to become OTs, she said, “The integrity of the profession lies in your hands.”
Additional Quotes From Occupational Therapists
“Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health.”
— Mary Reily, occupational therapist, EdD
“It’s not enough to give a patient something to do with their hands. You must reach for the heart as well as the hands. It’s the heart that really does the healing.”
— Ora Ruggles, a pioneer in occupational therapy
“In your chosen field, a part of the noblest work of man– the care and relief of weak and suffering humanity– may you realize in increasing measure the value of certain spiritual things which are the making of life but which we call by many common names. Kindness, humanity, decency, honor, good faith– to give these up under any circumstances would be a greater loss than any defeat, or even death itself.”
— Thomas Bessell Kidner, from a 1929 OT graduation speech
Resources and Support for Families and Caregivers
- Understanding Occupational Therapy
- Occupational Therapy for Autism
- What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?
- Occupational Therapy for Mental Health
Free Online Activity Sites for Occupational Therapy
These sites provide handouts, games, videos, and other activities to aid occupational development.
The Future of Occupational Therapy for Autism
Did you know?…
- The latest research in 2023 from the CDC shows that one in 36 children is now diagnosed with autism, in comparison to 1 in 150 children in 2000.
- The demand for occupational therapists is expected to increase by 17% from 2020 to 2030
- As technology advances, occupational therapists can monitor a patient’s progress through wearable tech and telehealth.
Integration of Virtual Reality Gaming into Occupational Therapy
A newer technique being incorporated into OT is virtual reality gaming. Although the success outcomes are yet to be solidified, studies have seen a bright outlook on the method.
One research study examined how virtual reality technology can replicate real-world settings and aid in therapeutic interventions for individuals with autism by enhancing behaviors conducive to greater independent functioning, such as instructing vocational skills and fostering adaptive behavior. It was found that VR can be considered an evidence-based practice that can help teach driving and interview skills to autistic individuals.