How Can Occupational Therapy Help a Child With Autism?
How Can Occupational Therapy Help a Child With Autism?
If you have a child with autism, then you are probably looking for all the possible ways you can help them to enjoy life and interact more successfully with the world. With so much conflicting advice out there, you may be unsure what methods to choose, and might be questioning things such as whether occupational therapy is worth looking into for your child. An occupational therapist knows how to help people with social, physiological and emotional effects of disabilities and illnesses, and this knowledge means they are perfectly prepared to help people with autism.
If you have been looking for an answer to ‘how can occupational therapy help a child with autism?’, then this article can help you understand the multitude of benefits that this therapy can bring for your child.
What Will an Occupational Therapist Focus On?
Occupational therapists work with people who have physical and mental illnesses and disabilities, and help them through the use of therapeutic daily activities. When an occupational therapist works with a child with autism, they will focus on structured, individualised care that will encourage the child to respond better to their environment.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ therapy for a child with autism spectrum disorder, so every child’s occupational therapy will be unique, and will focus on different areas. The occupational therapist will gather information and develop a program, especially for the child’s specific needs. They begin by assessing the child’s level of ability, looking at areas like self-care, play skills, and sensory processing. Then the therapist will create a plan which aims to help them improve in the areas they are struggling with – this could be dressing themselves, eating, or writing and colouring. The ultimate goal is for occupational therapy to help the child live more independently and be able to function more successfully in school and general life.
Functional Capacity Assessments
An occupational therapist will always carry out a functional capacity assessment with new clients, to discover what their support needs are. These assessments are necessary for NDIS plan reviews or applications, as they determine what the client’s ongoing support work and therapy requirements are. They help to create a plan for the client, and allow them to access the necessary services.
A functional capacity assessment includes:
A face-to-face assessment
Observation of their behaviour
A parent interview
Completion of questionnaires
The occupational therapist will complete a comprehensive report
Through this process, the therapist will ensure the participant receives the level of support they need to achieve their goals.
Occupational Therapy Methods
Therapy and evaluation are the two main methods occupational therapists use to assist children with an autism spectrum disorder. Evaluation refers to when the therapist assesses the child’s needs, and determines what their goals can be. Therapy then refers to when they implement strategies to help them reach these goals. The therapist will work with parents, teachers and other experts to create a plan for the child based on their specific goals – these can involve school performance, behaviours and social interaction.
Occupational therapy sessions normally take about half an hour to an hour, and the therapist will assist the child with learning strategies and skills which can help them achieve their goals. They can also come up with ways that the child’s family and teachers can modify daily tasks to make them accessible for the child. One of the most frequently used strategies is a ‘sensory diet/lifestyle’ – this helps children who are either over-stimulated or under-stimulated by their surrounding environment. The sensory diet/lifestyle is a specially organised daily activity plan which includes sensory activities in the child’s daily life in order to help their nervous system and improve focus and attention.
Examples of Strategies:
If your child is overwhelmed by noises, then they could listen to music while completing everyday activities, or use ear defenders.
For someone who doesn’t like being touched, their teacher could allow them to leave class a couple of minutes early so that they can avoid being bumped in the line.
Some children dislike certain smells, and a solution for this could be to give them a headband with a drop of nice smelling oil or shampoo on it.
For a child who is unnerved by black print on a white page, you can change the paper you are printing it on to a more acceptable colour.
Benefits of Occupational Therapy for a Child With Autism
Occupational therapy can help a child with autism improve their abilities in various parts of life, such as:
After working with an occupational therapist a child may become more focused at school and improve academically.
They can learn strategies that help them create and maintain reciprocal relationships with friends and family.
Children with autism may learn how to engage safely in play and cooperate with others.
They can learn ways to manage their feelings and behaviour through self-regulation practice.
The child can learn how to express their emotions in an appropriate and respectful manner.
The benefits of occupational therapy for autistic children can be endless. A therapist can simply try to help them manage the things they struggle with and assist them with interacting with society and leading a happy and healthy life.
Access Experienced Occupational Therapists
St Jude’s has over 35 years of experience providing expert disability services to people across Perth and South West WA. Our occupational therapists care for both autistic children and adults, and our NDIS occupational therapy is available to anyone with NDIS funding. Our disability services are not limited to catering for people with autism, we are also able to assist with many other disabilities and mental health issues. We are also able to assist those people who are recovering from an injury or requiring aged care. Contact our friendly team today to find out more.