Autism or autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition. It affects how the person interacts, behaves, communicates, and learns in several ways. It varies widely in severity and is often diagnosed in early childhood.
Occupational therapy focuses on helping children develop the physical, cognitive, and social skills necessary for daily activities and play. Occupational therapists work with children to address challenges related to fine and gross motor skills, sensory processing, and overall functional independence. Pediatric occupational therapy seeks to improve children's engagement and participation in life roles.
Timely intervention in autism can help them learn how to communicate, how to understand others, how to handle sensory overload, and how to take care of themselves, and improve their life participation. Occupational therapy is a primary mode of intervention in Autism, this blog explores the benefits of OT in treating Autism.
Approximately 1 in 36 children have autism. (Centre for disease control and prevention.)
How can occupational therapy help kids with autism?
OT for autistic kids helps them access their natural environments with greater ease, increase their independence, and improve their ability to take part in activities that are meaningful to the child and family. It can help them overcome sensory issues like touch or sensitivity, develop positive behaviors and social skills by practicing how they manage frustration, and improve cognitive functions such as problem solving, impulse control, memory and attention.
What is the process of occupational therapy for autism?
The first step of occupational therapy is evaluation. The occupational therapist directly interacts with the child and their family to better understand the individual needs. An occupational therapist makes use of client- centered and holistic therapeutic interventions both in analyzing and evaluating the problems faced by autistic individuals and in their treatment and support system.
What areas does an occupational therapist evaluate?
Occupational therapist evaluates the current development status of the child by using various screening tools like questionnaires, autism checklist, sensory profile, the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) and diagnostic criteria set forth according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition DSM-5.
An occupational therapist evaluates the child's:
Need for personal space
Ability to interact with others
Transition to new activities
Response to various stimuli
Behavioral responses like aggression, etc.
Motor skills like posture, balance, manipulation of small objects
Interaction with their parents or caregiver.
Common occupational therapy interventions for Autism
Sensory integration therapy
As per current estimates around 80% of autistic individuals have sensory processing problems. Many children with autism experience sensory processing difficulties, such as heightened sensitivities or sensory-seeking behaviors. The aim of sensory integration therapy is to help children regulate their responses to sensory input, making daily activities more manageable.
Few activities to work on various systems are:
Proprioceptive system: Jumping on trampoline, bicycle riding, pulling and pushing activities, weighted blanket, wearing ankle and wrist weights.
Tactile system: Playing with dough and sand, drawing with finger in sand, finger painting, vibrating toys.
Auditory system: Playing soft music on headphones.
Vestibular system: Sliding down a slide, catching and throwing balls while swinging, toys like rocking horses.
Occulo-motor system: Toys with lights, blowing bubbles, games of catching and throwing.
Auditory integration therapy
Auditory Integration Therapy (AIT) is a therapeutic intervention that aims to improve an individual's sensitivity to sound and their auditory processing abilities. It involves listening to specially modified music through headphones, designed to stimulate and reorganize the auditory system.
AIT is often used as a complementary approach for individuals with sensory processing disorders, autism spectrum disorder, or other conditions affecting auditory perception. The goal is to enhance sensory integration, reduce sensitivities to sound, and improve overall auditory processing skills.
Activities of daily living (ADL)
Occupational therapy aims to empower children with autism to achieve a higher level of independence in their activities of daily living, contributing to an improved quality of life. It is focused on improving bathing, dressing, eating, personal hygiene, grooming, toileting skills, feeding and mealtime skills, sleep hygiene, etc.
Play based therapy
Play is a very important activity in a child's life as it helps the child learn about the world they live in and also helps them express emotions like joy, anxiety, anger particularly in early years of life.
Autistic children often display atypical and insufficient play skills. Play-based therapy offers a dynamic and engaging way for occupational therapists to address a wide range of developmental needs in children with autism, making the therapeutic process enjoyable and effective.
Occupational therapists use play as a means to improve fine motor skills, including activities that involve grasping, holding, cutting, drawing, and manipulating objects. Play-based tasks promote hand-eye coordination and precision.
Through play, therapists encourage the development of gross motor skills such as running, jumping, balancing, and coordination.
Social skills training
Occupational therapists play a crucial role in providing social skills training for individuals with autism. Some common strategies and activities OT might use are social stories, visual supports, role playing, play activities to target specific social skills, such as turn-taking, sharing, and cooperation. Focus on developing the ability to recognize and interpret emotions in oneself and others. Utilize the Social Thinking curriculum, which focuses on teaching individuals with autism to consider others' perspectives, understand social expectations, and make informed social choices.Use video modeling techniques to demonstrate appropriate social behaviors. Individuals with autism can watch videos of social interactions and learn by observing positive examples.Teach self-advocacy skills to help individuals with autism express their needs and preferences in social situations.
Does online occupational therapy work?
Online occupational therapy is a successful model because the sessions are tailor-made based on the individual's needs and with necessary support from a parent/caregiver. The sessions are convenient, time saving and equally effective.
Research done by The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy (2023) states that
“Parent-mediated OT services have the potential to significantly enhance parents' learning, empower them to implement OT strategies in their home & community settings, increase child participation in daily activities, improve communication & engagement between parents & their children.”
“There were no significant differences between the two therapy delivery groups -suggesting that the effectiveness of the parent-mediated intervention was good whether delivered in person or via online video conferencing.”
Online occupational therapy has few benefits over in-person therapy:
Accessibility: It can be provided to the child at the comfort of their own home.
Individuality: Our sessions are planned as per the unique requirement of each child.
Parental guidance: The presence of parents during the sessions improves clarity and transparency regarding the progress made by their child, and also to help them learn how they can assist their child to make progress at home.
Progress tracking: You can track the goals and progress of your child on our platform.
Cost-Effective: Online therapy may reduce costs associated with travel and facility expenses, making occupational therapy more cost-effective for both families and therapists.
Engagement: Our therapists plan fun and engaging activities for children, as per their individual plans. It also allows use of various fun and interactive computer applications.
Convenience: Online occupational therapy offers the convenience of receiving occupational therapy services from the comfort of one's home. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with busy schedules or those who face transportation challenges.
Flexible timing: The time constraints are reduced, as you can choose the time suitable as per your child's schedule. Online OT also helps you save travel time, it can be quite helpful especially when you live in remote locations.
Sounderic provides online speech therapy and occupational therapy ssessions for children with various communication disorders. We would love to help you. Get in touch with us on WhatsApp at +919644466635 or schedule a consultation with us at https://www.sounderic.com/booking-calendar/occupational-therapy-consultation?referral=service_list_widget
Occupational Therapy in Autism- Gonca Bumin, Meral Huri, Sinem Salar and Hulya Kayihan