pediatric occupational therapy
Autism is a neurological condition characterized, in part, by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Someone with autism may insist on adhering to the same routines and rituals – and any attempt at changing the slightest element can set off a major meltdown. But the fact is: We live in an ever-changing world. As Fort Myers occupational therapists, one of our primary goals when treating children with autism spectrum disorder is to teach them flexibility.
Flexibility is the quality of being easily bent but not broken. It’s not a natural skill for any of us. Think about your reactions when events take a sudden, unexpected (and unwanted) turn. But the ability to be flexible is what allows us to move on from the big emotions of that and continue with the task or the rest of the day.
Change is just an inherent part of the world we’re in. Lots of kids with autism struggle with this – and often for seemingly very minor things. Helping them learn to get themselves “unstuck” is critical for functioning in daily life.
For many kids, learning to independently put on their socks and shoes is an important early childhood skill and major milestone. It’s an important indicator of emerging independence and self-care, and it also lays the foundation for planning and sequencing of more complex skills. But our occupational therapy team knows it can also be difficult to learn.
Several skills are required for one to be able to put on/take off their shoes and socks, including:
- Crossing midline
- Bilateral coordination
- Intrinsic and extrinsic muscle strength in hands
- Pincer grasp
- Hand-eye coordination
- Biomechanical postural control
- Forearm pronation and supination
All of this to say: It’s something that takes some baseline skills and practice! Children with delays, disabilities, injuries and other challenges may find it even more difficult to master if they struggle with:
- Poor finger strength (needed to manipulate items).
- Difficulty planning/sequencing (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc.).
- Trouble with self-regulation (critical to persisting with a tough task).
- Limited interest in self care or independence.
In occupational therapy, we tend to see our mission as helping children succeed. However, we also recognize that it’s equally important to teach kids how to fail.
That may seem strange, but the reality is failure is an inevitable outcome for everyone at some point or another. The size of the failure may vary, but knowing how to better tolerate will reduce meltdowns, anxiety and social difficulties (which can exacerbate the initial problem). Perhaps even more importantly, kids who know it’s Ok to fail sometimes are less likely to give up – and more likely to try new things! Ultimately, knowing how to self-regulate and cope with failure sets your child up for success in the long-term.
This point was underscored several times by NBA great Michael Jordan, who throughout his career spoke about the importance of losing. Resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges are a huge part of what has much him a winner, he’s said.
“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Helping kids figure out ways to climb it, go through it and work around it are a huge part of what our FOCUS occupational therapy team does every day. Self-regulation is a big piece of that puzzle, particularly with children who are diagnosed with delays, disabilities and other challenges.
One of the most important things we do as pediatric occupational therapists is help educate, support and strategize with parents to give kids all the tools they need to be more fully involved in the activities of daily living. Haircuts are a part of that – but a lot of kids extremely dislike them. There is ample research to support what many parents of children with autism already know: More than 96 percent of kids with ASD report hyper- and hypo-sensitivities to certain stimuli. That can make something seemingly simple like getting a haircut an overwhelming experience. Our Fort Myers OT team has tips to help you before your child’s next trip to the clippers.