A review of how occupational therapy can help kids deal with autism

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Image credit: www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/AndreaObzerova

Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD) affects approximately seventy-five million people worldwide, typically featuring a diverse range of symptoms and severity levels for each case. The WHO states that one in a hundred children is affected by this disorder and that while early signs may be caught in childhood, the condition is often undiagnosed until adulthood.

While life for those dealing with this brain developmental issue can be challenging, occupational therapy for autism holds incredible promise. It can help children socially interact and communicate better, leading to more fulfilled lives.

This article outlines the concept of occupational therapy, popularly called OT, and how it can be beneficial to those dealing with the challenges of ASD every day.

What is OT, and Why is It Important for Children with ASD?

OT is a remarkable and indispensable part of health care that aims to help people with severe injuries and conditions like ASD to reclaim their social and motor skills via targeted therapy.

In short, it can help them deal with daily activities more efficiently and lead to a better quality of life. With recent statistics showing that autism is increasing globally, OT is a remarkable boon.

When dealing with ASD, professionals first assess individuals to determine the severity and the type of problems before creating customised treatment plans. Besides motor skills, they study the person’s communication abilities, cognitive skills, social capabilities, and sensory responses to understand what kind of treatment will work.

So, besides medical intervention, physical therapy, and early detection, OT can be exceptionally helpful in helping youngsters, and undiagnosed adults, deal with delayed developmental issues.

How Do Occupational Therapists Help?

Once the initial evaluation is complete, the therapist will work in tandem with the parents of the autistic child to help improve their lifestyle. OT can help kids lead more comfortable lives. Here’s how:

  • Boosting motor skills and enhancing posture for a healthier body.
  • Helping kids understand social boundaries and personal space.
  • Improving self-care regimens like brushing, hygiene maintenance, and bathing.
  • Enabling children to become more emotionally stable and participate in group activities.
  • Supporting young kids’ transition into adolescence with as much ease as possible.
  • Helping them perform academic tasks more independently.
  • Training them to deal with chronic anxiety, gradually replacing it with self-confidence.
  • Guiding them to build new relationships and maintain them well.

Key Areas of Occupational Therapy

Several critical elements in OT work collectively to help people deal with delayed cognitive development. For instance, addressing sensory concerns is vital as it directly affects how people process sound, light, touch, smell, taste, and sight.

This means that even tasks like combing your hair or brushing your teeth that may be simple for many people become challenging for those with autism. A sensory-based approach can help those struggling to perform daily tasks like these to cope with the challenge instead of allowing it to overwhelm them.

Similarly, therapists may suggest parents of an autistic child make essential safety modifications at home until the treatment takes effect. To prevent slippage and unforeseen injuries, they may have to add ramps or railings, child-proof sharp corners, and add handles in the bathrooms.

Sometimes, professionals may recommend that the parents invest in specific equipment to help improve their child’s motor skills. These often include walkers, canes, wheelchairs and other assistive devices to help them move around more comfortably.

Finally, there might be a need for the OT to work with a physical therapist if the case is too severe, helping the professionals aid your child in building muscles and strength.

Occupational Therapy Activities

Occupational therapy for autism is by no means a tedious or cumbersome approach. In fact, the entire treatment is centred on the idea that kids need to be involved in engaging activities and fun exercises that push them to reach optimal potential. While personalised care is mandatory, group activities make the plan more fun and exciting.

Here’s a glimpse of some popular OT activities professionals use worldwide to help children combat developmental delays.

  • Cooking class – Involving kids in making simple dishes like pancakes or muffins is a great way to boost their coordination and motor skills. They learn to grasp objects, measure ingredients, and use their hands to mix the batter.
  • Fun obstacle courses – Besides the one at their clinic, an OT can help parents create their personal obstacle course at home, ensuring their child can continue treatment in a fun and comfortable environment. Jumping, crawling, and climbing stuff on the course can vastly boost their gross motor skills.
  • Storytime – Telling children bedtime stories can help improve their imagination skills and attention span. As they learn about new characters, they pick favourites, imagine scenarios, and enjoy an improved concentration.
  • Sensory diet – Polishing sensory aspects of children with ASD is highly essential as it will help them manage everyday activities. So, professionals typically use activities with an exercise ball, animal walks, and mild body contact activities to help achieve optimal sensory functionality.
  • Art and crafts – Drawing, colouring, writing, or making shapes can help children communicate with one another and improve their coordination. If you encourage them to do it daily, it can improve their posture while bettering their visual attention and grasping abilities.

Long-Term Goals and Benefits of Occupational Therapy

With a dedicated treatment plan and personalised approach, OT can help individuals achieve much of their desired levels of normalcy. For instance, this could be reading or refining motor skills for some, while it could be learning how to dress and feed oneself for others.

In the simplest of terms, the long-term goal of such therapy is to help people with developmental disorders lead healthy, relatively independent, and happier lives.

Over time, the most prominent benefits that OT children and adults with ASD enjoy include effective emotional regulation, enhanced cognitive abilities, and maximum sensory processing. It can also vastly improve their gross motor skills, ensuring they can effectively use their entire bodies to walk, jump, crawl, climb, and throw things.

So, if you notice even the slightest symptoms of ASD in your child, such as persistent hurdles in communication or social interaction, repetitive behavioural patterns, or inflexible speech, contact an occupational therapist immediately. These professionals can help your child lead a better life, despite the challenges that such developmental delays bring.

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