How Occupational Therapy Helps Autistic Patients

how occupational therapy helps autistic patients

Occupational therapy serves a unique role in treating autism spectrum disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability with a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. Autism affects an estimated one in 44 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

How Occupational Therapy Helps

Occupational therapy helps children and adults with autism spectrum disorder perform life tasks by making the most of their needs, abilities, and interests.

Early diagnosis and intervention can improve outcomes for people with autism. Occupational therapists use screening tools to evaluate a patient with autism. Tools include an autism checklist, sensory profile, Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), and diagnosis criteria provided by the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

When evaluating a patient, occupational therapists consider the following skills:

  • Speech and non-verbal communication
  • Social interactions with others, including eye contact and emotion regulation
  • Attention span
  • Responses to stimuli, sensory seeking, and sensory defensiveness
  • Motor skills, including posture, balance, and use of small objects

An occupational therapy session focuses on functional restoration that consists of strengthening, using adaptive equipment, or modifying an environment. An aim of occupational therapy is to help a patient gain or regain independence.

Pediatric occupational therapists apply a holistic approach in treating children and adolescents with autism. They help children with autism spectrum disorder improve their ability to take part in activities that are meaningful for them and their families. Goals are based on the child’s individual needs. Often, a play-based approach is used to help make learning fun and motivating.

Occupational Therapy Interventions for Autism

People with autism spectrum disorder often have difficulties with sensory modulation including challenges processing sight, sound, and other senses.

Simple tasks such as brushing teeth and getting dressed could be overwhelming because of these sensory challenges. Occupational therapy interventions for autism include:

  • Sensory integration therapy
  • Focus on mental health and wellness
  • Emotional development and self-regulation strategies
  • Facilitation of social activities and peer groups
  • Improving self-care routines and help with daily activities
  • Developing motor skills
  • Supporting adolescent transition into adulthood
  • Using cognitive behavioral approaches to support positive behaviors

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Autism

Occupational therapists create personalized programs for autistic patients including therapeutic strategies. The therapist may also outline ways family members can support the patient and help them communicate better in situations at home or elsewhere. By monitoring the patient, the occupational therapist reviews the patient’s progress and adjusts the plans as necessary.

Overall, occupational therapy can benefit autistic patients in the following ways:

  • Improvement in academic or work tasks
  • Communicate appropriately
  • Maintain relationships
  • Express emotions in a healthy and productive way
  • Improve independence and confidence
  • Less anxiety

Support Individuals with Special Needs

Occupational therapy is a fulfilling profession that helps people develop and maintain the skills needed for daily life. You can contribute to another person’s quality of life as an occupational therapist. Pursue a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) from Carlow University, which provides therapists with training to be qualified professionals who work with individuals with autism spectrum disorder.