When it comes to occupational therapy, many people relate this to support for adults; after all, children don’t have occupations. But a child’s “job” is to play and learn. If they have delays or challenges with fine motor, cognitive, social, communication, or behavioral skills, it can interfere with their daily life and ability to effectively interact with the world around them. Occupational therapy for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is especially common to provide children with the strategies and tools necessary to thrive. One pilot study found that sensory integration activities were effective for children with ASD.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 1 in 59 children in the United States have ASD, meaning it may affect more children than many people realize. However, it is more prevalent in males (1 in 37) versus females (1 in 151). Every child is different, so how autism affects their child development can differ. Engaging children with autism in occupational therapy can address their unique needs and help them become more independent and confident.
The Role of Occupational Therapy
Children’s occupational therapy helps with a wide range of skills from getting oneself dressed and feeding oneself to learning to share and improving hand-eye coordination. Treatment is tailored to each child’s needs so that they can maximize the benefits of occupational therapy and apply these skills in their everyday life.
Pediatric occupational therapists are trained to recognize the signs of autism in children and delays in reaching common child development milestones. They have children complete a variety of tasks to assess fine motor, social, sensory, behavioral, and environmental issues. Not all children face the same challenges, so it is important to complete a thorough evaluation to identify their individual areas of need.
Creating a Plan
Once necessary evaluations are completed, the therapist will work with the family and other providers to create a comprehensive treatment plan. This will include determining areas of focus, setting goals, and creating a schedule for therapy. There may be activities parents are asked to do at home to help reinforce what children are learning during occupational therapy. Remember that the therapist may not address every skill at once. They don’t want to overwhelm the child and may need to work up to certain activities. As children progress, their treatment plan is updated and adjusted to align with their current needs and goals.
Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Children with Autism
Occupational therapy for autism spectrum disorder can be an integral part of early intervention services. It can help children to address challenges earlier on and build their skills and independence.
Fosters Daily Living Skills
One of the benefits of occupational therapy is developing daily living skills. This includes things such as getting oneself dressed and learning how to manipulate buttons, zippers, and snaps. It can help with using a fork or spoon, brushing one’s hair or teeth, or improving handwriting skills to be more accurate and legible. Handwriting classes can help children just learning how to write, or older children who need to refine their writing.
Improves Problem-Solving, Communication, and Social Skills
It also supports children in developing their communication skills. Many children with autism have difficulty reading social cues, engaging in back-and-forth play, or expressing their emotions. Occupational therapy can address behavior issues and give children tools for interacting with others more effectively.
Helps with Sensory Issues
It is estimated that between 42% and 88% of children with ASD also have sensory integration issues. They may engage in self-stimulation such as flapping their arms, rocking back and forth, or bumping into things. Others may shy away from being touched or being in environments where there are too many lights, sounds, movements, or smells. Occupational therapy works on integrating activities into their day that fulfills their sensory needs and reduces over- or under-stimulation. This could include things such as playing with playdoh, swinging on a swing, jumping on a trampoline, wearing a weighted vest, or squeezing a stress ball.
Managing Autism Issues Through Therapy
Occupational Therapy from Therapeutic Movements
Managing autism in children can be stressful, but at Therapeutic Movements, our therapists work with families to create a plan that helps their child maximize the benefits of occupational therapy. Therapy addresses their individual needs when it comes to autism and child development milestones. Whether they’re having trouble grasping small objects during play, interacting with peers, writing letters of the alphabet, or coordinating putting on their jacket, occupational therapy can help. Therapists can also provide adaptive equipment or recommend modifications that enable children to be more successful and independent.
Occupational therapy helps children develop the skills they need to interact with the world around them every day. From playing to learning at school to socializing, their ability to communicate, use fine motor skills, and manage sensory input are critical. Parents are often amazed at how many areas occupational therapy touches and how much their child’s abilities can thrive once they start treatment. Therapeutic Movements conducts thorough evaluations and develops individualized plans to meet each child’s unique needs and goals. If you’re concerned about how autism is affecting your child’s development, find out how occupational therapy at Therapeutic Movements can help.