Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Font Size

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Autism

A person who has autism often has trouble communicating and interacting with other people; his or her interests, activities, and play skills may be limited. Occupational therapy may help people with autism develop these skills at home and in school.

 

Recommended Related to Autism

Raising a Child with Asperger’s Syndrome: Mary Walsh’s Story

I began noticing something was different about my son, Matthew, when he was about two years old. He didn’t make good eye contact. Noise bothered him. He had trouble with some of his motor skills, such as using a spoon. He was also having a tough time at day care. He’d cry when I dropped him off. He couldn’t relate to other kids. He would get bothered if toys got out of order. And he clapped a lot, more than normal. When I look back at pictures of him at that age, he looked really sad, really...

Read the Raising a Child with Asperger’s Syndrome: Mary Walsh’s Story article > >

What’s the role of occupational therapy (OT) in treating autism?

Occupational therapists study human growth and development and a person’s interaction with the environment through daily activities. They are experts in the social, emotional, and physiological effects of illness and injury. This knowledge helps them promote skills for independent living in people with autism and other developmental disorders.

Occupational therapists work as part of a team that includes parents, teachers, and other professionals. They help set specific goals for the person with autism. These goals often involve social interaction, behavior, and classroom performance.

Occupational therapists can help in two main ways: evaluation and therapy.

How is occupational therapy useful for evaluation of autism?

The therapist observes children to see if they can do tasks they are expected to do at their ages -- getting dressed or playing a game, for example. Sometimes, the therapist will have the child videotaped during the day in order to see how the child interacts with his or her environment in order to better assess the kind of care the child needs. The therapist might note any of the following:

  • Attention span and stamina
  • Transition to new activities
  • Play skills
  • Need for personal space
  • Responses to touch or other types of stimuli
  • Motor skills such as posture, balance, or manipulation of small objects
  • Aggression or other types of behaviors
  • Interactions between the child and caregivers

How does occupational therapy help a person with autism?

Once an occupational therapist has gathered information, he or she can develop a program for your child. There is no single ideal treatment program. But early, structured, individualized care has been shown to work best.

Occupational therapy may combine a variety of strategies. These can help your child respond better to his or her environment. These OT strategies include:

  • Physical activities, such as stringing beads or doing puzzles, to help a child develop coordination and body awareness
  • Play activities to help with interaction and communication
  • Developmental activities, such as brushing teeth and combing hair
  • Adaptive strategies, including coping with transitions

What are the benefits of occupational therapy for autism?

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve his or her quality of life at home and in school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills so that people with autism can be as independent as possible.

These are some of the skills occupational therapy may foster:

  • Daily living skills, such as toilet training, dressing, brushing teeth, and other grooming skills
  • Fine motor skills required for holding objects while handwriting or cutting with scissors
  • Gross motor skills used for walking, climbing stairs, or riding a bike
  • Sitting, posture, or perceptual skills, such as telling the differences between colors, shapes, and sizes
  • Awareness of his or her body and its relation to others 
  • Visual skills for reading and writing
  • Play, coping, self-help, problem solving, communication, and social skills

By working on these skills during occupational therapy, a child with autism may be able to:

  • Develop peer and adult relationships
  • Learn how to focus on tasks
  • Learn how to delay gratification
  • Express feelings in more appropriate ways
  • Engage in play with peers
  • Learn how to self-regulate

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

Aspergers Syndrome Symptoms
Article
Autism Symptoms
Article
 
spinning top
Slideshow
Most Dangerous Thing Your Child Touches
Article
 
High Functioning Autism And Asperge Syndrome
Article
Gluten Free Diet Slideshow
Article
 
Dealing With Autism A Familys Journey
Article
Vaccine and needle
VIDEO
 
little boy walking in road
Article
Mother hugging teenage son
Article
 
Understanding Rett Syndrome
Article
Home Care Tips
Article