This year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a sharp increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children from one in 68 just two years ago to one in 59 today. This was a 15 percent increase in the number of children with the disorder. While these numbers are alarming, occupational therapists work one-on-one with these children to help them lead fully functioning lives that achieve their goals. Here’s how occupational therapists can help children with autism.

How Do Occupational Therapists Help ASD Kids?

Occupational therapists are experts in the psychological, social and emotional effect of injury and illness. They work closely with the entire support system for the autistic child, including parents, teachers, doctors and therapists. Their two primary roles are to diagnose issues and establish a treatment plan to improve outcomes.

Autism is as pervasive as it is complicated, so occupational therapists typically work first, to observe and document the behaviors of the child. They may videotape the child at play or in another setting to determine how they engage with others and their environment. The therapist will observe the child’s behaviors and physical skills, including:

  • Attention span and how often they transition to new activities.
  • Their need for space and their play skills with others.
  • How they respond to touch, colors, smells or other stimuli.
  • How the child handles stress.
  • Their level of aggression or emotionalism.
  • Physical issues such as coordination.

After a period of observation, the occupational therapist will create an individualized treatment plan for the child, which could draw upon a number of techniques, including:

  • Physical activities to help build a child’s fine and gross motor skills. This could include building with blocks, climbing stairs, riding a bike or other activities.
  • Supervised group play activities to assist communication and human interaction.
  • Adaptive strategies to help the child cope with transitioning between activities.
  • Brushing teeth, combing hair or other developmental strategies.
  • Practicing understanding the difference between perceptual skills like understanding sizes, shapes or colors.
  • Communication such as reading and writing or verbal communication.

How will these exercises improve the life of a child with ASD? WebMD suggests a whole host of benefits such as:

  • The ability to make new friends and improve social relationships with peers or adults.
  • A sharper focus on specific tasks.
  • Learning patience and to delay gratification.
  • Expressing feelings in more appropriate ways.
  • Learning to play well with others, including their parents and siblings.
  • Developing the ability to self-regulate and self-monitor.
  • Lessen the anxiety of parents, siblings and other family members trying to cope with the disorder.

The occupational therapist can help in all these ways and more. They serve an important function for parents, teachers and doctors who struggle to sometimes diagnose and treat these patients. Raising a child with ASD can be an incredibly difficult undertaking. Occupational therapists provide a way for these children to learn new behaviors that can help them better cope with these challenges. They can teach the child, parent, siblings and even teachers new ways of interacting and improve the lives of everyone involved. To learn more about the role of occupational therapists, contact Therapia Staffing today.