According to the CDC, about 1 in 44 children in the USA has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which is about four times more common among boys than girls and can be found in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
The current development levels of adults and children with autism can be evaluated by occupational therapists and then assist them in improving their self-regulation of emotions and participation in social interactions. Occupational therapy for autism can help those in need to decrease their limitations and build on their strengths.
In this article, we will explore occupational therapy for autism and the benefits associated with proper evaluation and the implementation of a treatment plan.
Table of contents:
- Why is occupational therapy for children with autism important?
- How to evaluate the need for occupational therapy for autism.
- Interventions regarding occupational therapy for autism.
- Benefits of occupational therapy for autism.
- Where to find an occupational therapist for autism.
Why is occupational therapy for children with autism important?
Humans use their senses to observe sound, sight, touch, smell, taste, and balance and use this information to analyze and make sense of their environments. With certain autistic children and also adults, their filtering mechanisms operate differently, distorting the information, which in turn overwhelms them to a state where it becomes uncomfortable or even painful.
On the other hand, certain autistic people require sensory sensation to find relief from anxiety or to find pleasure. People in both examples mentioned above suffer from from sensory indifferences. This means that they experience sensory stimuli differently than the rest of the population.
Occupational therapy for autism is needed to target each sense to help the nervous system become more organized which can then reduce anxiety, exhaustion, and discomfort so that they can improve their attention and performance and function better in different environments.
How to evaluate the need for occupational therapy for autism
Occupational therapists have various tools at their disposal to evaluate the need for occupational therapy for autism. These include screening tools like the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), autism checklists, sensory profiles, or criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Occupational therapists will focus on the following skills of autistic people:
Social skills encompass how they interact with others, their general behavior, their desire for personal space, eye contact, anxiety and aggression levels, and how they are able to regulate their emotions.
Motor skills refer to the body’s ability to perform certain movements or complete certain tasks using the body’s ability to control muscles the way the brain intends to. Occupational therapists focus on balance, posture, and the manipulation of small objects when they are observing children with autism.
Previously we explained the term sensory indifferences. For that reason, occupational therapists observe the child’s sensory defensiveness, general responses to stimuli, and sensory-seeking demands.
Communication skills in humans go beyond speaking. Non-verbal communication plays a vital role in how we express our emotions to others. This could happen consciously or subconsciously. Occupational therapists study both speech and non-verbal communication when assession children with autism.
These skills, also known as cognitive abilities, cognitive capacity, or cognitive functions, refer to the brain’s ability to obtain, process, and use information through learning, remembering, reading, reasoning, and paying attention. Each of these skills plays a role in how we process and use the information to our advantage in whatever environment we find ourselves in or whatever challenge we may be facing.
Occupational therapists observe cognitive stamina and attention span to analyze the shortcomings and identify areas of improvement.
Interventions regarding occupational therapy for autism
After the evaluation process is completed, the occupational therapist will formulate goals and develop an occupational therapy intervention plan together with the family. It is essential to collaborate with the family so that everyone is working together to create a sustainable intervention program.
Common occupational therapy interventions include:
- Motor development
- Cognitive behavioral exercises to stimulate positive behavior
- Sensory integration and sensory-based strategies
- Emotional development/self-regulation strategies
- Mental health and wellness programs
- Creating peer groups for social participation and play activities
- Encouraging improvement of self-care activities (routine activities) such as grooming, washing, eating, etc
Benefits of occupational therapy for autism
The primary goal of occupational therapy for autism is to alleviate the stress, fear, anxiety, and emotional pain of the patient in order to improve their quality of life so that they are able to find more joy within their environment.
One of the major benefits of occupational therapy for autism is to minimize anxiety. Once the patient feels less anxious, they are able to focus on academic tasks and improve communication. This will also lead to improvement in fostering and maintaining relationships with others and collaborate toward achieving a common goal or purpose.
The treatment will eventually help the child learn how to delay gratification, which will help them regulate their arousal levels and allow them to express emotions in a healthy and productive manner.
In the end, result is a happier child that will become more independent with time as they continue to grow their confidence.
Where to find an occupational therapist for autism
Your ideal place to start is with the physician. Often schools and teachers also refer parents to trusted occupational therapists that assisted children from their facility in the past. We highly recommend that you take the time to read our previous article regarding introducing your child to occupational therapy.
But to reiterate, make sure that the occupational therapist is willing to conduct a comprehensive evaluation and formulate plans with the family to create a sustainable program that includes one-on-one treatment in a sensory-rich setting and includes family participation.
SuperPSYCHed is at the forefront of revolutionizing Pediatric Therapeutic Services and accepts most insurances. Our clinical services are renowned for helping children with speech therapy, physical therapy, therapy for Autism, and occupational therapy.
If you have any additional questions about occupational therapy for autism or would like to book an evaluation session, click here and complete the form, or contact us at 219-750-9600.