How Occupational Therapy Can Help Your Autistic Child

The idea of occupational therapy, such as at Bayonet Point Health & Rehabilitation Center, usually makes a person think of adults receiving help with regaining or maintaining the ability to function independently after an injury or illness.  Few people understand the role that occupational therapy can play in helping children, particularly children with autism.

The "occupation" of children, Kids Health reminds us, is "playing and learning," and occupational therapists "can evaluate kids' skills for playing, school performance, and daily activities and compare them with what is developmentally appropriate for that age group." 

How It Works

Occupational therapists often work as part of the Individualized Education Plan for a child with autism.  Being able to work with the child in school or day care helps the therapist understand his or her personalized needs in a social setting.  Therapists often work in class as well as individually with the child (so-called "pull-out sessions").  Their first goal is evaluation of the child's needs.  To do so, an occupational therapist may take note of things such as attention span, responses to stimuli, fine motor skills, aggression, difficult interactions with other children and adults, and personal space issues. 

All of these will help the therapist fulfill the second goal:  developing a specific program to help each child client.  Each personalized plan usually includes a number of different strategies for helping cope with the affects of an autism spectrum disorder.  Physical activities can help develop motor skills and coordination.  A therapist may help the child work on activities of daily living, such as brushing their teeth or bathing.  Communication and interactions can be assisted with targeted play activities. 

The Family Benefits

Because occupational therapy focuses on helping an autistic child participate in daily life in all important settings, family life can be improved as well.  Therapists focus not only on the improved engagement of the client, but also on the needs of the family.  This may include things such as working to adapt the child's environment to minimize external distractions, finding ways to facilitate communications, or improving needed skills.  The American Occupational Therapy Association notes that therapists can help parents and siblings understand the sensory processing issues their child experiences, as well as how to help manage them. 

Not One-Size-Fits-All

Families dealing with an autism spectrum disorder know that there is no easy solution.  Getting an occupational therapist with experience in autism disorders—along with other therapy specialists—on your child's team can help parents and educators determine how best to manage and improve the situation.  But early intervention is a key to finding the best outcomes, so start looking into local resources today.

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