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What You Need to Know About Occupational Therapy for Autism

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Out of the many forms of therapy for autism, occupational therapy has proven to be one of the most life-changing. It’s particularly beneficial to young children on the spectrum who are just beginning to develop the fine, gross, and social skills they’ll need to thrive at school and home.

Let’s take a closer look at occupational therapy for kids with autism to better understand how it works and what kind of impact it can have when done right.

What Is Occupational Therapy? 

Occupational therapy is an approach to medical treatment that helps individuals with physical, cognitive, and sensory impairments master everyday life activities. Administered by a trained and licensed Occupational Therapist, or OT, it uses real-world tasks to build confidence, skills, and independence in all kinds of domains.

Occupational therapy for autism specifically addresses the issues caused by sensory processing disorder, emotional regulation, attention deficits, anxiety, and irregular social interaction. Treatment is personalized to a patient’s individual condition; people with large hills to climb may tackle gross motor skills like coordination and balance, while those with higher-functioning autism might get help with fine motor skills and practice emotional development activities.

What are the Benefits of Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy for autism is an important part of the ASD treatment process. While nothing is ever guaranteed, regular adherence to a program can yield many benefits, including:

Developed Motor Skills

For some children with autism, motor skills aren’t naturally developed. 

Occupational therapy helps build them, whether for something as simple as tying their shoes or as complex as handwriting. The importance of working on both fine motor skills and gross motor skills is often overlooked, but it is one of the most essential functions of occupational therapy.

Children in OT with their therapist

Enhanced Social Skills

In some cases, children with an autism diagnosis have difficulty connecting to the world around them. It’s not a matter of being introverted – just mismatched with typical social norms. Occupational therapy helps to bridge this gap by practicing activities that help kids learn how to interact with others, pay attention, and develop better communication skills.

Increased Independence

One consistent goal among virtually every type of therapy for autism is to empower individuals to live their happiest lives. This starts with mastering independence, which occupational sessions teach in a hands-on way.

Improved Communication Skills

Communication skills are one of the most important parts of any relationship, and occupational therapy helps children with autism form stronger relationships through increased communication. This could be anything from learning sign language to developing verbal skills.

Reduced Sensory Issues

Sensory processing disorder is a common and frustrating reality for many people on the autism spectrum. The cognitive condition leads to a heightened awareness of certain stimuli, making it difficult for those with the disorder to process and respond appropriately. 

As one of the most engaging forms of autism intervention, occupational therapy is often very effective in helping those with this disorder regulate their responses to sensory stimuli, reducing agoraphobia and promoting a depression-free life.

What Does Occupational Therapy Look Like? 

The answer to this question is multifold because occupational therapy for autism can look like a lot of different things. What a session consists of ultimately depends on the individual being treated.

Families seeking this type of early autism intervention should be ready to start things off with an initial assessment. Occupational therapists must establish a baseline understanding of the child they’re working with, including their strengths and weaknesses, areas of concern or challenges, and what types of activities they engage in regularly.

Multiple children together in an Occupational therapy session

From there, an individualized plan of care can be made. This may include activities that target basic gross motor skills such as standing, walking, and running; fine motor skills for handwriting or cutting with scissors; sensory integration techniques that help the child better process tactile input from their environment (e.g., brushing); self-care tasks like dressing and hygiene; social skills development; and daily living activities like shopping or organizing.

Occupational therapy sessions can also incorporate play-based learning, adapted toys and tools that make certain tasks easier, and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises to help manage stress or anxiety levels.

Session frequency again depends on the case at hand and the individual’s response to interventions, expected progress rate, and goals set out by the OT in collaboration with family members or caregivers. 

Occupational therapy for kids with autism is usually recommended for at least 30 minutes once a week. Duration can go upwards from there, while the number of sessions per week can increase as well. 

Is Occupational Therapy Covered By Insurance?

Yes, many major insurance providers include behavioral health treatments like occupational therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment in their care plans. In fact, some states even require it. 

In any case, it’s always a good idea to review your specific policy to understand the terms, frequency, and details of your coverage.

How to Find an Occupational Therapist 

Finding the right occupational therapist for your child is important in providing them with the best care possible. Your doctor or pediatrician may be able to provide you with referrals, and it’s also worth checking if there are any dedicated autism clinics or support centers in your area.

How Heartlinks Can Help

Heartlinks is a leading ABA Therapy provider for autism, specializing in treatment options for children and teens. Our staff of experienced professionals works with families to create individualized treatment plans that address the unique needs of each child. 

We offer community-based and in-home options, giving families access to top-notch care where they need it most. We’re always just a call or email away.

See the difference that specialized services can make by inquiring about Heartlinks’ therapy for kids with autism today.

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