Children on the autism spectrum often present with sensory modulation difficulties or sensitivities, meaning they can have challenges processing sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, body position, and balance. This impacts a child’s ability to perform routine activities, such as brushing teeth, engaging with family at dinnertime, or participating in recess at school.
A simple task like brushing your teeth seems routine to many people, but to children with ASD, these menial tasks can be overwhelming due to their sensory challenges. Using a variety of strategies and techniques, including a sensory-integration-based approach, OTs help the child and family identify challenges and use age-appropriate methods that teach regulation and skill acquisition and help them to be successful in completion.
Some of the goals an OT may work on with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder include but are not limited to:
- understanding boundaries and personal space
- playing and social participation skills
- keeping a safe body
- performing daily living skills such as brushing teeth, bathing, or dressing
- creating schedules to assist with transitions and expectations
- using sensory diets to assist in regulating and modulating input around them which may include use of a weighted blanket, pressure vest, noise cancelling headphones, etc.
- being aware of their safety and providing strategies to aid in safety awareness
- self-feeding and increasing food variety for picky eaters
- Individualized treatment
Occupational therapy is a holistic and individualized treatment that assists each patient in reaching and maintaining their full potential to live a happy and successful life. In an occupational therapy evaluation, goals are determined based on the specific child. It is very important to understand what challenges and limitations are impacting a child’s activities and how to assist them in successfully engaging in their daily lives. Occupational therapists also help children reach their full potential through the joy of play. Using a play-based model to learn daily skills makes learning fun and motivating, and the child often does not even realize they are working hard.
An OT’s goal is to provide the child and family with the tools necessary to be successful in all environments. Caregivers often see optimal outcomes in children with ASD when there is consistency between therapy and daily routines; children can continually learn essential motor, daily living, and social skills as they develop into functioning adults.