Occupational Therapy For Autism: How It Can Help
For children with autism, participating in daily activities at school and home is much harder than for their peers. Sensory processing issues and trouble with understanding social cues can cause them to react with distress or even aggression to new situations and to withdraw from social activities. In this regard, occupational therapy treatment for autism can go a long way in helping children regulate their behavior and thus participate more effectively in daily activities. Read on to know more about occupational therapy for autism and the benefits of occupational therapy for autism.
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect social, behavioral, and communicative abilities. There is no cure for the condition, although the right treatment can help to manage the symptoms and improve the child’s ability to participate in day-to-day activities. Social and communication skills therapy, speech and language therapy, and stem cell therapy are all part of typical treatment programs.
What is occupational therapy for autism?
Occupational therapy for autism refers to a therapy program that builds, enhances, and maintains the skills a child needs to participate effectively in social settings and lead an independent life. It takes into account the child’s unique physical, mental, emotional, cognitive, and sensory needs and imparts skills accordingly. In particular, occupational therapy for kids with autism targets the child’s sensory processing issues, with the aim of helping children gain better control over their behavior and thus remove learning barriers.
How does occupational therapy help autism?
With regard to the benefits of occupational therapy for autism, there are several. Individuals learn the social and motor skills they need to function independently at home, school, and elsewhere. Skills that occupational therapy for autism can help to build include:
- Gross motor skills like riding a bike or climbing the stairs
- Fine motor skills like handwriting or cutting with scissors
- Daily activities like brushing teeth or using the toilet
- Visual skills for school lessons
- Perceptual skills, such as how to tell between different colors and shapes
- Problem-solving skills
- Play, communication, and social skills
All of this can help the child with Autism form better relationships with peers and adults, express themselves effectively, and self-regulate their emotions in social settings.
Occupational therapist role
The occupational therapist will typically spend some time observing the child to determine how the child currently interacts with their environment and which skills and behaviors need the most attention. Occupational therapy activities for autism are customized to the child’s individual needs and may evolve over time as the child shows improvement in certain areas. Some aspects the therapist might observe before introducing OT therapy for autism include:
- How the child transitions between activities
- Their attention span across activities
- Their responses to stimuli like touch or sound
- Motor skills including balance and how they handle objects
- How they interact with caregivers and other children
- Any aggressive or antisocial behaviors
- Their need for personal space
- How they play
Occupational therapy activities for autism
There are several tried-and-tested occupational therapy techniques for autism that the therapist can recommend. Many of these are exercises that can be done at home with the parent or caregiver. The activities that the therapist will recommend as part of occupational therapy for children with autism will typically fall under five categories.
Gross motor skills
These occupational therapy exercises for children involve engaging multiple muscle groups, with the aim of engaging the whole body. Activities include:
- Games that involve a lot of running and jumping
- Practising a variety of walks, like the bear crawl, army walk, crab walk, and so on
- Ball play with a variety of balls, including throwing, catching, rolling, and kicking
Fine motor skills
OT for autism that focuses on fine motor skills engages the small muscles in the digits and palm of the hand for better grip and coordination. Examples include
- Working with tweezers or chopsticks
- Squeezing and making shapes out of putty or play dough
- Playing with small figurines or blocks and encouraging the use of the thumb and index finger to pick them up (i.e. a pincer grasp)
Muscle coordination and posture control
Most children with autism have weak muscle tone, which makes it harder to work on gross and fine motor skills. It is thus important to incorporate core-specific occupational therapy exercises for autism, including:
- Lying prone while doing an activity, thus making the child engage their trunk muscles
- Games that involve balance, whether sitting or standing
- Exercises with a therapy ball
- Bike-riding or scooter board activities
Sensory processing and modulation
This is perhaps the most critical part of occupational therapy for autism. Most children with autism will have their own unique set of sensory processing issues, with certain activities over-stimulating them while others provoking a sensory deprivation. The occupational therapist role in this regard is to provide a suitable sensory diet that varies the amount of sensory input throughout the day. This will enable the child to process the input better. Activities include:
- Pressure inputs such as body massages, lying in a ball pit, or pressing cushions or pillows on the body
- Games where the child has to push or pull something heavy
- Texture play, where the child interacts with a variety of textures like noodles, dry beans, uncooked rice, putty, sand, shaving cream, and so on
The occupational therapy techniques for autism listed above will help significantly with improving the child’s performance at school and elsewhere. In addition, here are some self-care activities to integrate into OT therapy for autism.
- Encouraging the child to dress and bathe themselves and helping only when needed
- Teaching them tricks they can use themselves when they feel overwhelmed, such as reciting a poem or counting numbers or naming five things in the room
Overall, the benefits of occupational therapy for autism are considerable, and the sooner a child starts a program, the better the results. Consult your doctor today about the best occupational therapy for autism for your child and give them the skills they need to enjoy an independent life.