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  • Georgina Barrera

Occupational Therapy and Autism: Empowering Children to Flourish


The goal for occupational therapists, in some sense, is to guide the patient towards a road for self-reliance and understanding that allows them to grow and improve in a variety of areas. Occupational Therapy (OT) can benefit people in different ways. When it comes to children with certain learning disabilities or autism, the role of this kind of hands-on therapy is monumental as the child is developing and learning the skills of everyday life.


Occupational Therapy in a Nutshell


People have varying ideas as to what occupational therapy is and how it can work for different individuals. This type of therapy plays a role for both children and adults and is not limited to people who get hurt on the job, which is often how people think of OT. The titular occupation—defined in the context of occupational therapy—is seen as a meaningful everyday activity. For children, playing and interacting with others falls into the definition of “occupation.” That is because OT is designed to guide and help the patient—based on their specific circumstances—to do things that they need and want to do in life. This improves the quality of life for both adults and children and helps people flourish into more fulfilled and active individuals.


The History of Occupational Therapy and How It Took On An Important Role


The history of the occupational therapy field is not easy to pinpoint. So many of the services that an occupational therapist will provide are somewhat intuitive and are often a natural part of medical treatment. So let’s take it way back for a minute. One possible starting point for OT is in the treatment of the mentally ill during the 18th century. At that time, mental illness or disability was treated way differently and people were often ousted from society, put in prison, and/or hidden from society. As advancements and education in the complexities of psychology and neurodevelopmental conditions, the treatments began to change. Asylums in the late 18th century were at least a safe place for people to be able to relearn and reintegrate into society and therapists would help them learn skills to help them lead self-sufficient and productive lives.


William Rush Dunton Jr, who is often considered the father of occupational therapy, advocated for engagement in occupational situations for medical conditions. It wasn’t until the 20th century that OT as we know it today came into existence. A lot of the treatment was concentrated on promoting engagement in meaningful tasks. Similar to the history of Physical Therapy, OT became much more prevalent after World War I, when plenty of veterans were coming back from the war with physical and mental injuries. The U.S military recognized the value in providing this kind of therapy to soldiers rotating out of and coming back from battle.


Occupational Therapy For Autism in Children


Autism is known as a complicated neurodevelopmental disorder. Children with autism can lead productive and active lives but will often have social interactions and communications impairments that might make going to school, making new friends, or interacting in society a little more difficult. Occupational therapy can help by guiding children in developing some of these skills and slowly working to where they learn to better interact with others.


Signs and Symptoms of Autism


One in 59 children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged autistic diagnoses under the umbrella of the spectrum. These include autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive, developmental disorder—not otherwise specified. Autism can vary greatly from child to child, but here are some of the most common signs.

  • Speech deficiencies

  • Loss of social skills

  • Difficulty relating to others

  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures

How Occupational Therapy Can Help


OT can help children that have been diagnosed in the spectrum in many different ways. Here are a couple of ways that occupational therapy can help children with autism.

  • Developing fine motor skills

  • This might include playing with toys, holding rattles, writing, coloring, paintings, and picking up small items.

  • Visual-motor and visual perceptual skills

  • This might include completing puzzles, recognizing differences in photographs, recognizing different symbols and fonts, drawing, handwriting, and tasks that include copying lines and shapes.

  • Activities of daily living (ADLS)

  • This might include brushing teeth, changing clothes, cleaning up toys, etc.

Occupational therapists will work with families to find hands-on approaches to therapies and ways to help your child better interact and learn. OTs will help you and your family set goals and approach your child’s playtime and education in a more productive way to help them flourish to their full potential.


Find the Right Therapy for Your Child


If you are a concerned parent wondering if your child might benefit from occupational therapy, we can help. Come pay us a visit here at Villa Children’s Therapy and we can advise the best way to approach your child’s needs. Call us today.



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