Autism is a general term used to define a group of complex disorders of brain development. It is a spectrum disorder, meaning that the symptoms vary from person to person. Generally, autistic children experience some degree of difficulty with social interactions, communication, and behaviors.
A recent study conducted by occupational therapists at the Jefferson School of Health Professions in Philadelphia, and published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that sensory integration therapy, or occupational therapy, can help to improve the daily functioning of children who have been diagnosed with autism.
Occupational Therapy and Autism
Occupation therapy (OT) is a form of therapy that focuses on assisting people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities gain the skills that are needed to improve their independence. Pediatric occupational therapists can assist children with autism by helping them learn how to successfully manage everyday tasks that may come naturally to non-autistic children.
For example, a child with autism may not be able to cope with certain physical sensations or may not know how to “properly” interact with other people. Through occupational therapy, these children can learn the skills necessary to manage these situations so that they do not become overwhelmed, or in severe cases, isolated.
An occupational therapist first observes the autistic child to understand what age-appropriate tasks he or she can successfully complete, such as getting dressed, talking with others, or transitioning from one activity to another, for example.
The therapist then uses a variety of play activities and other techniques, which will aim to modify how the child’s brain reacts to certain stimuli or situations, including touch, sight, sound, and movement. For instance, a child who has difficulty communicating might engage in play that encourages interaction and communication during OT sessions.
The goal of OT is to help the child gain a better quality of life, in all areas of life. The aforementioned study analyzed the benefits of OT on children with autism, and found that it is, indeed, beneficial.