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Occupational Therapy for Autism: A Comprehensive Guide

May 24, 2023

From the classroom to the playground, occupational therapy for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be an incredibly supportive component of a neurodivergent child’s treatment plan. In many cases, with the inclusion of occupational therapy, children on the spectrum learn to navigate daily life with more ease and inner confidence. Occupational therapy for autism is becoming more common as families search for comprehensive and holistic methods to support their loved ones on the spectrum.

While ABA therapy, or Applied Behavior Analysis, remains the industry’s gold standard and most prescribed autism care, occupational therapy poses unique benefits. It often supports a fully encompassing approach to ASD, including ABA.

This comprehensive guide about occupational therapy for autism by ABA Centers of America explores the training and education required to practice, the advantages occupational treatment provides, and how it works with ABA therapy to help children with ASD achieve massive wins and flourish across environments.

For additional information about supportive ABA care with ABA Centers of America, visit us here.

What is Occupational Therapy for Autism?

Occupational therapy is a versatile, specialized form of rehabilitation that focuses on helping individuals learn skills for everyday living. In many cases, this form of therapy allows individuals to modify their habits to improve outcomes.

Occupational therapists commonly work closely with clients with ASD and their families to identify their needs and develop individualized plans to improve their client’s abilities to engage in routine activities and participate more fully in life. Occupational therapists often help clients adapt to the environment to reach their goals.

Through specialized therapy techniques, OTs utilize play to help children with ASD develop better physical, cognitive, and social-emotional skills. These skills are essential for neurodivergent children to succeed in life. Occupational therapy can assist children with ASD by reducing disorganization, improving communication, providing sensory regulation, and more.

By teaching these fundamental skills to children with ASD, occupational therapy helps them enhance their daily lives.

Who Are Occupational Therapists?

Occupational Therapists (OTs) are health professionals trained and often educated in special education, psychology, and anatomy. While they can help clients with a range of ages and disabilities, occupational therapy for autism focuses on the unique features presented by ASD.

Many OTs work in school-based settings, hospital clinics, or private practices. Often OTs are employed alongside speech pathologists, respiratory therapists, Registered Behavior Technicians, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, pediatricians, medical doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and psychical therapists, to name a few. Typically, OTs collaborate with other providers to ensure inclusive care.

Occupational therapists hold a variety of credentials, reflecting their rigorous education and training. Typically, OTs earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy, including extensive human anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and abnormal psychology coursework. Graduates must also participate in supervised clinical training before obtaining their license to practice. These credentials equip OTs with the expertise to help clients experiencing various issues.

Occupational therapy is a fantastic intervention for children with ASD who face difficulties completing typical demands that can cause various types of distress. With the help of occupational therapists, kids and teens with ASD can enhance their skills and threshold for sensory experiences. This preparation helps individuals with ASD perform better in school, employment, and ABA therapy settings.

The Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Neurodivergent Children

The positives of occupational therapy for individuals with ASD are vast. Occupational therapy can have a massive impact on functioning and participation. Additionally, OTs can assess for any medical issues contributing to a child’s difficulty meeting developmental milestones. Examples of occupational therapy include:

  • Self-care skills
  • Sensory processing
  • Communication
  • Social interactions
  • Leisure activities
  • Play skills
  • Communication
  • Emotional regulation and more

As parents, you will see your child’s growth and development with an occupational therapist’s gentle, knowledgeable guidance.

Choosing the Right Occupational Therapist

Choosing the right occupational therapist can impact the occupational therapy experience for you and your child. As a parent, it’s essential to work with and seek out an OT who understands the unique challenges associated with ASD. Experience with this population is often critical, especially if your child is experiencing profound autism.

An occupational therapist who is warm, thoughtful, and informed can provide the support and encouragement necessary to help and motivate your neurodivergent child through their therapy course. Look for a therapist with the required qualifications and certifications. Make sure they demonstrate dedication to continuing education and professional development.

Types of Treatment Used in Occupational Therapy for Autism

The types of treatment used in occupational therapy for autism vary depending on the individual but typically include the following:

  • Sensory integration activities
  • Physical therapy
  • Fine motor skill development
  • Activities to refine social engagement
  • Functional mobility training
  • Social skills training
  • Behavior modification and more.

As a parent or caregiver of a neurodivergent child, it’s essential to understand the various treatments and techniques used in occupational therapy. Occupational therapy for autism involves specific strategies with definitive goals. Additionally, occupational therapists may use assistive technology, such as visual schedules or sensory equipment, to promote autonomy and reduce anxiety.

Common Goals of OT Treatments

The OT will work with the child’s family and other providers to help the client establish relevant and achievable gains. Typical objectives of OT treatment plans include improving the following:

  • Coordination
  • Sensory processing
  • Self-regulation
  • Social experiences
  • Communication
  • Self-care abilities
  • Play
  • General motor skills

Combining ABA and OT to Maximize Results

When it comes to providing children with ASD the best possible care, integrating multiple therapies is often necessary. While Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA therapy has proven incredibly effective, it’s essential to understand the encouraging role of occupational therapy for autism. This type of therapy can support a child receiving ABA therapy in several ways.

ABA therapy is a science-based approach to teaching skills that help individuals on the spectrum increase positive, productive behaviors for learning and growth. At the same time, OT focuses on improving physical and practical life skills. ABA and OT therapies work together to create an environment conducive to play, exploration, and development.

Occupational therapists focus on improving a child’s ability to engage in everyday activities, such as playtime and schoolwork. Occupational therapy can encourage a child’s progress in ABA therapy by addressing sensory processing, motor deficits, and other related issues. By improving a neurodivergent child’s ability to follow instructions, participate in activities, and learn communication skills, they significantly gain in ABA and general responsiveness.

Ultimately, when providers implement ABA and occupational therapy, it can significantly improve a child’s abilities and overall quality of life.

Tips on Working with Your Child’s OT

Parents and caregivers must be proactive in their child’s occupational therapy program. Building a solid relationship with the OT team is critical to helping your child reach their goals. It is also vital to keep the dialogue open between all team members and communicate your child’s progress to everyone involved, even setbacks or parental mistakes.

With the proper support and guidance, occupational therapy can be an invaluable and supportive instrument in helping children on the spectrum participate in their lives and the world around them.

The Strides Made in Occupational Therapy for Autism

As we progress towards greater understanding and inclusion for individuals with ASD, occupational therapy has emerged as a fantastic tool in supporting a neurodivergent child’s development. By providing a range of targeted interventions and strategies, occupational therapists can work closely with ASD individuals and their families to create optimal futures.

ABA Therapy with ABA Centers of America

At ABA Centers of America, our next-level team of ABA practitioners offers comprehensive care that treats each client as a whole person with passions, dreams, and personal insights. We understand that no two kids on the spectrum are alike and offer personalized interventions realistic to their evolving needs. We are overjoyed to see our clients’ smiling faces, engaged minds, and improved behavior during their time with us.

If you think ABA therapy may be the right avenue for your child, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are passionate about providing high-quality services accommodating your child’s abilities, learning styles, and fascinations.

Together, we can achieve better outcomes for your loved one and your family. We support collaboration and are happy to work with your child’s existing team, which may or may not include an occupational therapist.

The journey towards greater independence and fulfillment may be complex with ASD, but with the proper support, it is possible. Call us at 844-969-4222 or visit us here for more information.