occupational therapy autism

How Does Occupational Therapy Help Children With Autism?

Many times, when a child is first diagnosed with autism and referred to occupational therapy in Fort Myers, their first question is, “What the heck is that?” It’s a reasonable one. Most people hear “occupation” and think, “job.” What gets overlooked is the fact that children do have a job: Learning how to take care of themselves and function in society.

Part of that is learning to speak and walk, but it’s also learning how to draw and write, how to eat healthy, how to understand and follow directions, how to exercise proper hygiene and use the toilet, how to look people in the eye when we’re interacting and how to cope with transitioning from one thing to the next.

For a typically-developing child, these lessons will come naturally over time. For a child with autism, intervention is required to help them reach their maximum potential. Occupational therapy is a big part of that puzzle, and at FOCUS Fort Myers, it’s tailored to each child.

Occupational Therapy Early Intervention

Fort Myers occupational therapists often play a critical role in early autism detection and making recommendations for services. This happens in preschools and schools, though these days the research shows it’s valuable to get children in for services even earlier. That’s why we watch for it among other children who enter our clinic and work with other therapists (mostly speech therapists because that’s the primary reason young children are first referred for therapy). We sometimes refer families for autism screening and provide informational tools like the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. This is a checklist that can give parents a sense of their child’s “risk,” with scores ranging from low to high. Depending on the child’s age and symptoms, we may recommend anything from surveillance (keeping an eye on it) to following up with a pediatrician and/ or seeking immediate diagnostic/ eligibility evaluation for early intervention autism services.

Examples of questions in the checklist:

  • Does your child ever play pretend or make-believe?
  • Does your child ever point a finger to show you something interesting?
  • Is your child interested in other children?
  • Does your child respond when you call his or her name?

A single indicator isn’t cause for alarm, but taken as a whole, this will give us an idea of whether occupational therapy, speech therapy, ABA therapy and physical therapy is required, and if so how to tailor that therapy.

Occupational After Autism Diagnosis

Although children with autism often receive occupational therapy through school, it’s often insufficient to be effective in achieving their independent life goals.

We help support families by discussing typical developmental milestones, generating ideas for age- and development-appropriate activities. We also pay close attention to sensory issues, in particular sensory processing problems because it prohibits them from properly filtering out extraneous sensory stimulation or processing sensory stimulation in the same way the rest of us do. Occupational therapy for autism often focuses on helping the child (and parents) manage the child’s sensory problems and behaviors more effectively.

Sensory issues help explain a lot of why children with autism may not like to be touched, certain noises, certain fabrics or foods. Occupational therapy helps support positive coping mechanisms for sensory problems, work on socially engaging the child and cuing appropriate social interaction, play, transition coping and self care.

If you have questions about how Fort Myers occupational therapy at FOCUS may help your child and your family after a diagnosis of autism, write or give us a call so we can help guide you through the process.

FOCUS offers pediatric occupational therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida.

Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Supporting Parents of Children With Autism: The Role of Occupational Therapy, The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.

More Blog Entries:

Occupational Therapists: Why Kids Need More Time to Play Outside, July 30, 2018, Fort Myers Occupational Therapy Blog

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