occupational therapy Fort Myers

Occupational Therapists: Essential Oils Aid Self-Regulation in Children With Autism

Many of our Fort Myers occupational therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers believe in a holistic approach to treating children with a wide range of delays and disorders. What that means is we focus on “the whole child,” and not just a series of symptoms or conditions – and treat with evidence-based therapeutic strategy and (hopefully, where it’s possible) avoid the need for pharmaceutical intervention. Part of this can involve essential oils, powerful plant extracts that have proven effective in a wide range of applications from boosting focus and attention to promoting relaxation and calming.

Often referred to as “aromatherapy,” (and many do smell very good), our occupational therapists wouldn’t bother to mention it if it were simply expensive potpourri. Far from a gimmick, the truth is there is real science to support the effectiveness of essential oils in numerous applications – from promoting healing in prematurely-born infants to helping a child who struggles with transitions calm and self-regulate.

Exploratory Study Promotes Essential Oils as a Benefit for Children With Autism

On analysis conducted by researchers at AirAse found that certain combinations of therapeutic grade essential oils applied topically every night for several weeks were associated with positive improvements in children’s behavioral, cognitive and emotional well-being.

Previous studies on the development of Alzheimer’s disease show that the body uses sleep to clear the brain of certain “plaques” from the gray matter. (A buildup of this material is what is associated with Alzheimer’s disease). So the AirAse researchers asked mothers of children diagnosed with autism to apply a dose of essential oils on brain reflex points to promote better nightly rest. Parents then recorded their subjective observations about behaviors. This included not just sleep but variety of foods eaten, episodes of anxiety and aggression, fine and gross motor skills and ability to focus.

Marked improvements were recorded with every child and 11 of 12 continued using the essential oils for an extended time even after the study ended.

Why Essential Oils and Occupational Therapy Go Hand-in-Hand

Although we don’t know what causes autism, we do know that we can often treat it effectively with early intervention occupational therapy, speech therapy, ABA therapy and physical therapy begin before the child turns 5. Each therapy targets a different set of goals, with occupational therapy serving the broad but critical goal of helping children reach their highest level of function and independence for a more fulfilled life.

Essential oils are compliment to (not a replacement for) the type of instruction and skills that occupational therapy provides.

One of the key skills on which our FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapists work with children who have autism spectrum disorder (and many other conditions) is self-regulation.

Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and control one’s own feelings, emotions and behavior. It requires sometimes that we block out stimuli that is irrelevant, control our instinct and impulses and persist in our task. This is hard for adults who are typically-developed. It can be incredibly difficult for a child with autism and sensory processing disorders. That’s because the ability to take in our body’s cues, read the environment, accurately process the environment and then process where our focus should be and how we can adjust our inherent response – all of that starts with sensory processing.

Occupational therapists use a play-based approach to give children the tools necessary to recognize and respond appropriately. Essential oils aren’t about giving a “miracle pill” that can sidestep that process, which can take months or years. But as noted in this exploratory study and in our own experience anecdotally, use of these oils can boost brain focus, ease tension, promote calming and improve immune function and gut health.

If you have questions about essential oils from an occupational therapist’s perspective, one of our longest-serving occupational therapists, Krystle Lopez, MScOTR/L, is a knowledgeable resource. Email Lopez with questions for insight and tips.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Pediatric Experts Find Aromatherapy Effective for Promoting Infant Healing, NAS Recovery, 2019, University of Kentucky College of Medicine

More Blog Entries:

Early Intervention Speech, Occupational, ABA Therapy Preparing Wave of People With Autism for Workforce, March 31, 2019, FOCUS Occupational Therapy Blog

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