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Can Occupational Therapy Treat Autism?

ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder may result in brain functioning improperly. Children who are diagnosed with this disorder may face difficulty in conducting social interactions and may experience communication impairments, restricted play skills, activities, and interests. As a result, parenting a child with Autism may at times become a stressful and overwhelming task. However, using a range of therapies and strategies, such issues can be worked and controlled to an extent, depending upon the severity of the issue.

A number of behavioral therapy for kids diagnosed with Autism are imparted by the therapist, depending upon the specific needs of the child. ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis), VBT (Verbal Behaviour Therapy), CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) are some of the commonly used therapies to treat Autism. One therapy that is popularly used is Occupational therapy that provides help to those diagnosed with ASD perform better in their home and school environments.

These children also tend to have sensory processing patterns that are significantly different from those exhibited by other children. According to the statistics, approximately 60-70% of ASD children experience a processing or sensory modulation disorder. In simple words, they can integrate the inputs that come from senses much slower, than any other child. For instance, they may still be processing input while another input is presented to them. This can make them feel overwhelmed, which may sometimes result in acting out or a meltdown.

Another reason why it takes much longer for a child with Autism to process information is that they lack the requisite filters that enable one to remove any redundant information and just focus on the important bits of it. This is one major area where Occupational therapy helps. It helps add sensory filters in a classroom or home set-up, which enables a child diagnosed with Autism process information quicker than before. It also helps their nervous system in becoming better regulated and organized, thus helping the child perform better in terms of sensory processing and attention. On the surface, Occupational therapy works on areas such as social interaction, independence, self-confidence, self-esteem, and learning.

How does Occupational therapy help treat Autism?

An occupational therapist uses a strategically planned holistic approach, taking into consideration the developmental needs of the child. For this, he/she closely assesses and analyses the sensory, cognitive, emotional, social and physical abilities of the individual. Once the therapist has made a note of all the challenges and strengths of the child, he/she works on overcoming them. For instance, an occupational therapist may work on the following areas in a child diagnosed with Autism-

  • Activities of self-care that are generally performed in daily routines like dressing. This requires the use of motor planning, which is the ability of one to conceive, devise a plan and lastly perform the skill appropriately. It would also require the use of fine motor skills that are required for smaller movements like those which occur in toes, feet, hands, and wrist. Buttoning the shirt or zipping pants would require such skills that an OT can help achieve if found not emerged in an ASD child.
  • Writing, copying notes from a book or a blackboard, For this, the therapist may work on the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills of the child that enables one to perform these activities.
  • Holding and gripping a pencil/pen, using scissors, holding a tweezer, using a paintbrush, etc requires motor planning and fine motor skills, which an occupational therapist may work upon depending upon the specific needs of the child.
  • Throwing-catching skills- An occupational therapist can also help the child with his/her throwing and catching skills. This requires them to work upon the child’s gross motor skills that include balance, coordination, hand and leg muscles, eye-hand coordination, etc
  • Organizing a bag pack, shelf, drawer, etc- These activities can be worked upon by improving motor planning and organizational skills in a child.
  • Reaction to sensory inputs- In this, the therapist works upon the child’s ability to effectively manage impulses and disruptive emotions. In simple words, the therapist helps develop the “think-before-act” ability in a child.
  • Offers interventions to help in sensory integration- In this, the child’s occupational therapist may help him/her respond appropriately to smell, touch, sound, light, or any other input, using several strategies.
  • Encourage the child’s transition from one activity/set-up to another– Often children diagnosed with Autism may find it difficult to transit from one activity to another. For this, the occupational therapist provides soothing strategies to the child. For instance, a therapist may suggest a caregiver or parent to allow the child to pick and take an object from one activity to the next. For example, if a child is playing with his/her toys and further needs to head out of the home to attend a therapy session. To encourage a smooth transition, he/she may be allowed to pick their favourite toy and take it to the therapy centre as well. This can help the child remain calm and soothed.

Summing it up, Occupational therapy can be an effective treatment for Autism spectrum disorder. However, for the holistic development of a child, a range of therapies and strategies may be additionally adopted to yield the best results. Consult a therapy centre that has a team of clinicians including an occupational therapist, child psychologist, speech therapist, special educator, etc. Collectively, these can help your child thrive and live life to the best of abilities.

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