Occupational therapists can work with those on the autism spectrum to develop greater independence, improve communication, and learn to interact with those around them at work, school, and home.
In this blog on occupational therapy, we’ll look at the following questions:
- Is occupational therapy effective for autism?
- What does an occupational therapist do for autism?
- Does an occupational therapist diagnose autism?
- Do occupational therapists do sensory assessments?
- How long does a child need occupational therapy?
- What is the difference between ABA and OT?
- How do ABA and OT work together?
- Can occupational therapy help with behavioral issues?
Is Occupational Therapy Effective for Autism?
Occupational therapy (OT) is an excellent tool for either an adult or a child with autism. OT focuses on developing skills needed in daily life where autistic people need support.
Occupational therapists (OTs) have passed a national certification and received the training needed to guide their patients. They work one-on-one with their patients to give them their full attention and to meet personal goals. The individualized approach to OT allows therapists to be continually aware of the patient’s progress and which areas they thrive in or need extra help with.
What are Some Examples of Occupational Therapy?
OT is for any age group and has narrower fields, such as pediatric occupational therapy that targets children. It aims to help individuals with developmental disabilities develop the skills to become more independent.
There are a variety of activities and exercises done in OT to meet a patient’s needs. An occupational therapist works to develop treatment plans for their patients based on their types of disabilities, personal goals, and areas that need support.
To look at a few examples, a session of OT may look like one of the following:
- Picking up items with tweezers to build strength and coordination in the hands, fingers, and wrists.
- Creating and practicing a morning routine, including dressing, brushing teeth, and making breakfast.
- Building up strength and stamina in the muscles through exercises and stretches.
- Working with sensory stimuli to lessen overstimulation and become more comfortable with different sensations.
- Pediatric occupational therapists may work with children with autism spectrum disorder on play skills like sharing and verbalizing scenarios.
What Does an Occupational Therapist Do for Autism?
People with autism often have difficulties with both physical and mental capacities. This is due to cognitive differences from the typical brain. An OT focuses on critical areas of development: self-care, social skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and sensory integration. Regarding autism, these are vital areas that can enhance daily activities.
- Brushing teeth
- Healthy eating, meal prepping, and cooking
- Time management
- Playing with others
- Empathy and patience
- Active listening
Fine Motor Skills
- Writing and drawing
- Using utensils
- Using scissors
- Building with blocks, legos, etc.
- Tying shoelaces
- Playing instruments
- Using zippers or buttoning clothes
Gross Motor Skills
- Walking, running, skipping, and jumping
- Kicking and throwing a ball
- Climbing stairs
- Riding a bicycle
- Smelling different scents
- Eating new foods to expand preferences
- Touching different textures and consistencies
- Listening to music, exploring different sounds
- Practicing grounding techniques
- Trying new sensations (e.g., jumping on a trampoline, raking leaves, swinging, etc.)
Does an Occupational Therapist Diagnose Autism?
While occupational therapists cannot independently diagnose autism, they can be a part of the process. Occupational therapists may provide information to a pediatrician or another type of healthcare professional that aids in determining an autism diagnosis. This information is obtained through screening tools, comprehensive testing, and behavior observations.
Do Occupational Therapists Do Sensory Assessments?
Yes, occupational therapists provide sensory assessments by observing and documenting how their patient copes with the continuation of sensory information taking place daily.
Sensory assessments tend to occur in a clinic, in the patient’s home, or at school. The occupational therapist’s primary focus during sensory assessments is on behaviors and movements in connection with stimuli.
By better understanding a patient’s reactions to sensory info, the therapist can develop and recommend a treatment plan that targets key areas impacting the individual’s daily life.
How Long Does a Child Need Occupational Therapy?
It’s common for parents to ask how long their child will need OT. This answer depends on numerous factors pertaining to the individual, such as their diagnosis, the severity of their condition, and response to therapy. Some people only receive occupational therapy services for several weeks or months. In other cases, ongoing OT may be needed to maintain progress in skills and abilities.
What is the Difference Between ABA and OT?
Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and OT vary in their focuses and goals as disciplines. ABA works to understand an individual’s behaviors and teaches skills while reducing challenging behaviors. Likewise, ABA is typically for people with autism or other cognitive disabilities. OT, on the other hand, aims to improve an individual’s daily living skills and can benefit those with physical disabilities as well as mental disabilities.
How Do ABA and OT Work Together?
Despite being separate practices, there are overlaps between ABA and OT, and both can be utilized to benefit an individual. While an ABA therapist identifies the root causes of challenging behaviors and barriers to learning, an occupational therapist focuses on skills and ways to cope with difficult emotions and behaviors.
For those who have cognitive disabilities or struggles, combining the two disciplines can increase progress in learning and lessen behavioral problems.
Can Occupational Therapy Help with Behavioral Issues?
While OT mainly focuses on overall skill development, it can also aid in a patient’s existing behavioral issues. Behavioral problems aren’t just tantrums and lashing out, as some may believe. These can be struggles with routines, reacting negatively to stimuli, and anxieties in social situations. The skills targeted in OT can support these areas by improving communication skills, grounding, and sensory integration, among other things.