Occupational Therapy for autism - how will it help my child?

Occupational Therapy for autism works on a number of key areas of difficulty experienced by children with autism. Occupational Therapists help people to participate in all of the occupations that make up their daily lives.

For children their occupations are getting dressed, eating, going to the toilet, playing, learning, spending time with other people and sleeping. They also develop physical skills such as running jumping hopping climbing drawing and writing, and cutting to mention a few.

In order for them to lead happy fulfilled lives they need to participate effectively in all of the occupations that are appropriate for their age.

Many children with autism have sensory processing difficulties which impact on their ability to participate in many of these occupations. Occupational Therapy for autism should always address your child's sensory processing difficulties. You therefore need to find an occupational therapist who understands sensory processing and why it is an important part of Occupational Therapy for autism.

Finding the right Occupational Therapist

When starting Occupational Therapy for Autism it is really important to find an Occupational Therapist who has an interest in Autism and has experience working with autism.

Just like Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists work with both children and adults with a wide variety of conditions. It is impossible to be an expert at everything so most therapists focus on and specialise in a particular area.

Your child's initial assessment should definitely include a sensory assessment. If you are choosing a clinic based therapist you want someone who utilises sensory equipment including suspended equipment to ensure your child gets the most out of their Occupational Therapy.

Home based therapists should bring lots of smaller equipment with them and they should be able to show you how to successfully meet your child's sensory needs within your home environment.

You may feel that your child's fine motor skills are their biggest problem but a good Occupational Therapist will most likely tell you that they need to work on some of the underlying issues first so don't be surprised if they don't focus on handwriting or drawing initially. Click here to see the foundation skills needed for good handwriting and other fine motor skills

What should Occupational Therapy for autism include?

In a study by Greenspan and Weider (1998), They found that 94% of the 200 children with autism that they assessed had sensory processing difficulties.

In my work with children with autism I have found that most have some sensory processing difficulties. When parents think about sensory processing they think mainly about whether children dislike the feel of sand or finger paints but sensory processing is much more complicated than that and can impact significantly on the child's ability to participate in daily activities and learn. It can also affect behaviour attention and concentration. So your Occupational Therapy for autism should definitely include sensory processing. Your Occupation Therapist may provide you with a sensory diet. Click here to find out more.

Play is an essential part of all children's lives. They learn about the world around them through play. They develop motor skills essential for learning through play. They learn to start socialising with adults and other children through play. If your child has autism their play skills will most likely need development. This should be an essential part of your child's therapy and part of your Occupational Therapy for autism.

Many children with autism have difficulty with gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are the larger movements such as walking, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, climbing. While fine motor refer to hand skills such as cutting drawing threading and manipulating small objects. These may be part of your Occupational Therapy for autism. They will often improve through sensory activities recommended by your Occupational Therapist but may require some specific attention.

Sometimes parents are unaware that their child requires extra support until they start school and are having difficulty with handwriting. Handwriting is a complex activity that relies on many underlying skills. Click here to find out more about handwriting difficulties 

Occupational Therapists also work on activities of daily living. These include all activities required to look after one's personal care. Toileting, dressing and eating are all activities of daily living. Click here to find out if your child needs help in these areas

When your child approaches school age, they may have some cognitive or perceptual difficulties. Occupational Therapists can provide assessment and treatment if this is the case.

When to start Occupational Therapy for autism?

For a child with Sensory Processing difficulties this will affect everything. If they are calm and well regulated they will get the most out of all their other therapies. Numerous parents have reported how their child's speech improved when they started working on sensory processing.

I would therefore recommend that all children with autism see an Occupational Therapist at some point and the sooner the better. A program like JumpStart will provide parents with the tools to manage their child's specific sensory needs independently and so a program like this with a strong parent training component is often a great starting point. Thereafter you may choose to do blocks of therapy as specific issues arise. You as parents will soon work out if you feel your child requires ongoing Occupational Therapy.

And one final point...

As with Speech Therapists, some Occupational Therapists will come to your home and some are clinic based. They both have their advantages. Clinic based therapists are able to access all sorts of great equipment including suspended equipment but they see you in an artificial environment.

Home based therapists will not be able to use as much equipment but they get to observe your child in their real environment and can help you to effectively implement strategies in a way that you can copy without the therapist present. They get to see exactly what your child's bedroom, bathroom, play area etc look like and they can help you adapt these to allow you to provide Occupational Therapy for autism as part of your daily life.

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Jumpstart testimonials

'It is hard to express just how much Tali has helped us. Looking back I can't believe I coped as long as i did without all the skills that Tali has taught me'

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Tali is fun, creative, caring and a delight to be around. I am so grateful for all she has done for us and I couldn't recommend her more highly.