The Role of Occupational Therapy In Autism.

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The Role of Occupational Therapy In Autism.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the most common yet misunderstood mental conditions. According to the CDC, about one percent of the world’s population is autistic. Its prevalence in the has increased by a staggering 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010. Currently, one in 68 children has ASD. Boys are four times more likely than girls to develop this condition.

Even though there is no permanent cure for autism, early diagnosis and intervention can help control its symptoms. Many autistic people are able to lead a normal life thanks to the latest advancements in psychotherapy and medicine. Occupational therapy has been shown effective in the treatment of autism. In the long run, it can improve a child’s self-esteem and confidence as well as his /her social and learning skills.

Autism at a Glance

Autism is a complex disorder that affects brain function, especially the areas responsible for social behavior and communication skills. In general, it’s diagnosed around the age of three, causing lack of or delay in language, impaired social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. Autism symptoms may vary from one individual to another.

Most times, autistic children have a hard time building relationships and engaging in daily activities. They find it difficult to interact with other people and develop fixations. Some present sensory integration and sensory processing dysfunction, which affects their quality of life. Autistic toddlers prefer to play alone, avoid eye contact, and tend to repeat themselves. Most symptoms become established by age three and tend to continue through teenage and adulthood.

Many persons with autism are unable to “read” social clues and facial expressions. They may not be able to understand that other people have different feelings and thoughts than they have. Some can not control their emotions, so they react inappropriately in certain situations. Self-biting, hair pulling, crying without a reason, and anger outbursts are common among autistic children.

Fortunately, this condition can be successfully managed through structured, therapeutic activities. Most interventions focus on a child’s language, communication, motor, and play skills. A small percentage of patients progress to a point where they no longer meet the criteria for ASD. This means they develop normal language, daily living, and communication abilities. So far, the most promising treatment options include cognitive behavior therapy, occupation therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and speech language therapy. Medications are only prescribed to children with depression, hyperactivity, attention deficit, or severe anxiety. No one treatment has been shown to work for all.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy has emerged as one of the most effective approaches to autism spectrum disorder. This form of treatment can help autistic children develop normal behaviors and perform better in school and their everyday lives. Basically, it teaches them the skills needed to take care of themselves, build relationships, and adapt to the environment. Its primary areas of intervention are play, self-care, and learning.

The goal of occupational therapy is to promote independent function in all areas of life and prevent disabilities. Therapists focus on several key areas, such as:

  • Sensory processing
  • Perception
  • Cognitive skills
  • Visual motor skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Social interaction
  • Self-confidence and self-esteem

They use a holistic approach to autism treatment, taking into account the patient’s social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities. Progress is measured through improved grades in school, successful transitions to new roles, and personal satisfaction. In general, occupational therapists with the child’s family, teachers, and other health experts to develop a treatment plan and implement the steps needed for recovery. They also play a key role in the diagnostic pathway. In a nutshell, they help autistic persons with the “occupations” of life, such as handwriting, sensory processing, and play activities.

A typical session involves self-help activities, floor-based activities, and table games. Children are encouraged to play with legos and small figurines, make various shapes out of dough, kick and throw balls, jump, run, and ride bikes. These activities help improve muscle coordination and postural control, sharpen their motor skills, and facilitate their independence. The key to a successful intervention is keeping the activities “child-directed.”

Occupation therapy can help autistic persons address common challenges encountered at home or at school, such as getting dressed, using scissors, and feeding themselves. It also supports adolescent health in children who were once diagnosed with autism. The approach used in occupational therapy will vary according to the patient’s needs. There is no single ideal treatment that works for everyone.


A skilled occupational therapist can boost your child’s self-esteem, teach them basic life skills, and help them adapt to new circumstances.


After completing an evaluation, the occupational therapist will determine what areas to focus on. Some activities in occupational therapy involve a multi-sensory approach. These may include running, walking, turning around, sitting on an exercise ball, or standing on one foot. An autistic child who lacks fine motor skills will benefit from activities that require attention and hand-eye coordination, such as coloring, drawing, and playing musical instruments.

This form of therapy not only addresses a child’s sensory needs but also shapes their behavior. In the long run, it helps the child make better sense of the information received and live independently. Occupational therapists may also help parents structure the child’s day or work so that he can be more comfortable. For instance, you might need to reduce distractions in thei room, encourage them to take breaks between activities, or teach them relaxation techniques.

Occupational therapy is covered by private insurance, school programs, and vocational programs. School-based services tend to be more functional in nature. Families can also opt for home-based therapists. Early intervention increases the chances of recovery and can help your child get the most out of other therapies.

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