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Occupational therapy is focused on helping children with autism gain and improve the skills to engage in daily activities. An occupational therapist can help autistic children improve participation in self-care such as feeding and dressing, play skills, and school life. Occupational therapy can also help families of autistic children better understand sensory issues, respond to problems, and communicate more effectively with their child. Since autistic behaviors and disabilities vary widely between individuals, your therapist will carefully tailor a program to your child’s specific challenges and goals.

Schools usually provide occupational therapy for autistic children. In some states, health insurance may also pay for occupational therapy sessions. Parents and caregivers can choose to pay for additional occupational therapy on a private basis.

Researchers agree that in order to provide maximum benefits, occupational therapy intervention should begin as early as possible.

What does it involve?
The first task of the occupational therapist is to evaluate your child’s abilities and challenges based on observation, interviews with family, and reports from teachers. Together with the parents and teachers, the occupational therapist will set goals and priorities for therapy.

Occupational therapy for autistic children can take many forms depending on the needs of the child. Therapists may use puzzles or games to work on gross and fine motor skills and improve coordination. Other activities may focus on social interaction or communication. Occupational therapists can also work with autistic children and their parents to provide adaptive strategies for smoothing transitions. All of these techniques can help your child learn new ways to cope, solve problems, interact with others, and adapt to their environment.

Approximately 80 percent of children with autism have problems processing sensory stimulation. Occupational therapists may incorporate sensory integration therapy, which addresses sensory issues using several approaches. The occupational therapist may utilize brushing, massage, deep touching, swings, spinning, or weighted vests to calm the child. Sensory integration therapy can help the child learn to focus attention and cope with sensory information.

In addition to correcting negative behaviors and teaching coping techniques, occupational therapists support positive behavior, foster communication, and help the child find new and better ways to connect with those around them. Occupational therapy can help autistic children gain confidence in their abilities.

Occupational therapy is most effective when families, including siblings, and teachers actively participate.

Intended Outcomes
The goal of occupational therapy in autism is to help children improve their ability to function effectively in daily life.

Eighty-eight percent of parents report significant improvement in their child’s behavior after beginning occupational therapy, while 89 percent of parents report significant improvement after beginning sensory integration therapy.

Some parents move their child to another school to obtain occupational therapy. Other families move to a new town, county or state in order to obtain occupational therapy services.

If you pay privately for occupational therapy, it can become expensive.

Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to travel to occupational therapy appointments.

Some family members, such as younger siblings, may not be able to understand and participate in occupational therapy with an autistic child.

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