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Benefits of occupational therapy for autism

Occupational therapy may be recommended to help a child or adult with autism spectrum disorder cope better with daily tasks, socialising and work or school tasks.

What’s the role of occupational therapy in treating autism?

Occupational therapists study human growth and development. They are experts in social, emotional, and physiological effects of illness and injury. This knowledge helps them promote skills for independent living in people with autism.

Occupational therapists work as part of a team that includes parents, teachers, and other professionals. They help set specific goals for the person with autism. These goals often involve social interaction, behaviour, and classroom performance.

Occupational therapists can help in two main ways: with evaluation and therapy.

How is occupational therapy useful for evaluation with autism?

The therapist observes children to see if they can do tasks they are expected to do at their ages. These might relate to certain self-help skills, such as getting dressed. Or they might involve knowing how to play a game. Sometimes, it helps to videotape a child during the normal course of the day. This will help the occupational therapist better assess what is needed for care. With the tape, the therapist might learn about the child’s reactions to the environment. For example the therapist might note any of the following:

  • Attention span and stamina
  • Transition to new activities
  • Play skills
  • Need for personal space
  • Responses to touch or other types of stimuli
  • Motor skills such as posture, balance, or manipulation of small objects
  • Aggression or other types of behaviours
  • Interactions between the child and carers

How does occupational therapy help a person with autism?

Once an occupational therapist has gathered information, they can develop a program for your child. There is no single ideal treatment program. Early, structured, individualised care appears to work best.

Occupational therapy may combine a variety of strategies. These can help your child respond better to their environment. These strategies include:

  • Physical activities, such as stringing beads or doing puzzles, to help a child develop coordination and body awareness
  • Play activities to help with interaction and communication
  • Developmental activities, such as brushing teeth and combing hair
  • Adaptive strategies, including coping with transitions

What are the benefits of occupational therapy for autism?

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve their quality of life. This includes life at home and at school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills. That way, people with autism can be as independent as possible.

These are some of the skills occupational therapy may foster:

  • Daily living skills, such as toilet training, dressing, brushing teeth, and other grooming skills
  • Fine motor skills required for holding objects while handwriting or cutting with scissors
  • Gross motor skills used for walking or riding a bike
  • Sitting, posture, or perceptual skills, such as telling the differences between colours, shapes and sizes
  • Visual skills for reading and writing
  • Play, coping, self-help, problem solving, communication, and social skills

By working on these skills during occupational therapy, a child with autism may also do the following:

  • Develop peer and adult relationships
  • Learn how to focus on tasks
  • Learn how to delay gratification
  • Express feelings in more appropriate ways
  • Engage in play with peers
  • Learn how to self-regulate
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