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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Autism

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

What is sensory integration therapy?

You may have heard a lot about sensory integration therapy. That’s because some researchers estimate that eight out of 10 children with autism have problems processing sensory input. For example, they can’t filter out background noise. Other signs of processing issues include:

  • Problems with balance
  • Problems with body position in space
  • Oversensitivity to touch and the feel of certain types of clothing, such as socks with seams

With autism, social, behavioral, or attention problems can be partly a result of these sensory challenges.

Although more research is needed, OT can help with sensory integration and some of the related behavioral problems. Research suggests sensory integration therapy is less helpful in improving academic performance.

Examples of sensory integration therapy include:

  • Being brushed or deeply touched and massaged
  • Compressing elbows and knees
  • Swinging
  • Spinning on a scooter
  • Wearing a weighted vest

How can someone obtain OT services for autism?

You can obtain occupational therapy services either privately, through a statewide early childhood intervention program, or at school. Public law requires schools to provide certain types of occupational therapy to those who need it. Private insurance also usually covers OT. In addition, Medicaid may cover occupational therapy for autism, even for families with higher incomes. School-based OT tends to be more functional in nature. Typically, it works as an adjunct to educational goals, such as improving handwriting, so the child can keep up by taking notes. Private therapy will be more medically intensive.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 19, 2015
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