Lee County occupational therapy
Early intervention therapy for autism is crucial to optimal long-term outcomes for children on the spectrum. “Early intervention,” defined as a combination of speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, nutrition/feeding therapy, and ABA therapy, should ideally begin before age 3 to be the most effective. Yet a new study found that more than 50 percent of children with autism do NOT get the critical early intervention that has been proven to lay the foundation for yielding the best sustained results.
Researchers at Rutgers University analyzed the early intervention participation of kids with autism in one state, and found less than half were receiving early intervention therapies before turning 3.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, revealed income and racial disparities unfortunately played a role in how likely children were to have access to early intervention. Study authors opined that the issue was likely worse in other states.
As our FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers team understands it, the researchers analyzed data from the New Jersey Autism Study, a monitoring system that was set up by the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, focusing on the records of some 23,000 kids. They identified approximately 4,000 8-year-olds diagnosed with autism. Of those, only 1,890 of them had participated in early intervention therapy services. This was true even though these services are required by federal law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
To identify where the disparities were most prominent, the team analyzed information on wealth indicators (median household income, primarily) and discovered that kids who lived in areas with higher incomes were 80 percent more likely to have access to early intervention autism services than kids who lived in lower-income neighborhoods. They also learned that Black and Hispanic children were less likely to enroll in these services compared to their white counterparts.
Study authors stressed that understanding socioeconomic and cultural barriers to both early diagnosis and these essential therapy services are important components of helping improve education and access.
Early Intervention Therapy Key to Addressing Child Development Concerns
Occupational therapy is a broad discipline. Some parents are confused when they’re referred to “OT” by their child’s pediatrician. After all, the first thing that comes to mind when we think “occupation” is “job.” And kids don’t have jobs… Right?
In fact, children are tasked with a dizzying number of important jobs, spanning far beyond just learning to talk and walk (which in themselves can be pretty daunting milestones, especially for children with certain delays, disorders, and different abilities).
Occupational therapists – particularly those who work in pediatrics (with kids) – are responsible to:
- Identify the developmental/functional deficits with which a child struggles.
- Develop an evidence-based plan of care that specifically outlines the goals for each individual child on a personalized timeline.
- Use each OT session to creatively to help kids “play their way” to achieving those goals.
A pediatric OT session may look a lot like goofing off (another reason the field – and its necessity – are met with confusion). But the play-based approach is deliberate. You know the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun”? Play is what keeps kids engaged and interested, motivated and willing to push themselves just a bit harder every time. The most effective occupational therapy sessions are those that don’t feel like work at all for the child. This is rooted in mountains of evidence showing that it works.