What It Is
Occupational therapists (OTs) use exercises and special equipment to work on gross motor skills and fine motor skills and teach daily living skills. For people with autism, this can mean working on the proper way to hold a pencil, draw shapes, and write letters; daily living skills including using a fork and brushing teeth; and play skills such as throwing and catching a ball and riding a bike.
How It Works
OTs can be part of a team of child development experts who are evaluating young children's development, and making recommendations for services. Many school districts have occupational therapists on staff to work with children with a wide range of needs, including autism. Private OT organizations also may offer services.
There is more than one way to deliver services. Sessions devoted to OT services teach skills like those mentioned above. Sessions may last 30 or 60 minutes, and are conducted with a therapist and one student or a small group of children to facilitate play and social interaction. Another approach integrates OT skills teaching into the course of a child's day at school, so that, for example, an ABA-trained teacher consults with an OT specialist about creating opportunities to learn specific skills such as holding a pencil while also learning how to sit in a chair and pay attention to a teacher.
Important to Know
Some OT specialists and parent advocates recommend autistic children who are sensitive to noises or crowds spend time wearing a weighted blanket, or have an OT rub a plastic brush on a child's skin to decrease their sensitivity to physical stimuli. This is part of a popular trend in the discussion of sensory integration in both OT and autism services circles, and often involves other physical activities designed to teach a person's brain to accept physical stimuli. As this recent article from The New York Times notes, sensory integration is a hot discussion topic in the OT and autism communities, but as of yet there's not solid research to demonstrate its efficacy.
Occupational Therapy Resources
- American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
- Supporting Parents of Children with Autism: The Role of Occupational Therapy, article by the AOTA
- Occupational Therapy's Role with Autism , article by the AOTA