Top Ways Occupational Therapy Can Help Kids With Autism Every Day
There are many different methods of therapy that can be useful for helping children cope with the symptoms of autism. Since there are different types of autism and a wide variety of environments that autistic children may be raised in, it’s a good idea to figure out which type of therapy will best suit the child in question.
Children on the autistic spectrum may exhibit a wide variety of symptoms. These symptoms arise because of difficulties interpreting information that comes through their senses, which can greatly reduce the speed by which they process reality.
This is one of the reasons that children on the spectrum frequently experience meltdowns. These occur usually as a result of excessive sensory stimulation. Since children with autism often can’t filter out superfluous information, their lives are a constant stream of sensory input. This can be extremely difficult to deal with.
There are a lot of therapeutic methods and strategies that can be adopted to help people learn to filter their senses. One of the best forms of therapy for this is known as occupational therapy, and it has proven to be very successful in helping autistic children develop the necessary filters so they can process reality comfortably.
What is occupational therapy (OT)?
The purpose of an occupational therapist is to help people involved with academia develop the skills necessary to succeed in their education and in their lives in general. Several of the traits identified as necessary for healthy living by OTs include:
- The ability to learn and commit new information to memory
- A good sense of self-esteem and self-confidence
- Independence and self-sufficiency
- The ability to have social interactions easily and effectively
These traits are generally encouraged by all manner of occupational therapists. They apply this knowledge in a holistic sense and help people develop an all-around formula for engaging in life successfully.
When dealing with autistic children, OTs tend to encourage the development of other skills necessary for success. These include:
- Handwriting and printing
- The development of fine motor skills
- Skills necessary for daily living such as organization, routine development, hygiene, etc.
All of these things considered, the most important and difficult thing a therapist has to work with when dealing with children with autism is their sensory processing skills. Sensory barriers are the main difficulty preventing autistic children from engaging in life at the same level as their peers and helping to deal with these issues can be a great help to autistic children.
Most therapists working with autistic children or with people experiencing other sensory disorders should have at least some post-grad education regarding sensory integration and interpretation.
One of the primary ways that they go about this is by prescribing kids something known as a sensory diet or a sensory lifestyle.
This term is best understood when you recognize that everyone has their own way of interpreting reality. Through our development as children, we learn the most effective way for us to combine the different senses to reach logical and accessible conclusions about the external world. This allows us to comprehend what’s going on around us.
Everyone is born with different sensory preferences. The child’s environment, their mental state, and any therapy that they engage in will alter their sensory needs and perceptions.
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The sensory diet is a formulated activity plan that helps people who haven’t been able to develop their own sensory recognition program. This plan allows a child to integrate all sorts of different sensory activities in their day so they can engage in and begin to work with a wide variety of sensory inputs. This provides a wide number of benefits:
- They’ll be better able to manage and interpret their senses without getting overwhelmed.
- They will be able to respond better to sensory input without becoming overwhelmed.
- Their focus and attention span will increase because they’re not going to be having meltdowns from trying to process too much information
- They will help a child become more balanced and comfortable in their own skin
- They will help to prevent one of the most common things seen among people with sensory disorders: compulsive seeking or avoidance of certain sensory behaviors. They’ll also be able to switch between different sensory experiences with less anxiety.
- Sensory diet plans help to rebuild or reform the child’s nervous system. This allows them to physically handle more sensory input without getting overwhelmed or anxious.
One of the ways in which this works is by helping the child’s nervous system develop properly. The more they use their senses, the better organized they will feel and the more coordinated they will be when using different senses and engaging in different activities.
OTs will want to work with the affected child for a while so they can determine what sort of sensory diet will best be suited for them. Just like different people are better suited to different types of food, different children will need encouragement in different areas of their sensory perception.
The beginning of a sensory diet plan usually begins with a sensory circuit.
This is an activity that engages the sensory-motor system, so a child can begin to acquaint themselves with the feelings that accompany senses. This also helps prepare them for the day by putting them in a curious mind state that makes them eager to learn. These circuits usually include:
- Activities that make the child more alert, like spinning in circles or doing jumping jacks. This primes the nervous system.
- Organizing activities that integrate the brain and body together—things like juggling or training balance.
- Relaxing exercises that allow them to understand how their body fits into the space around them.
These activities help to facilitate the development of a healthy relationship between the child’s mind and body. Subsequently, this helps them develop confidence and improves their social skills and academic performance.
There are many methods of therapy available, and it’s important to understand which one works best for your child. In the case of autism, you might want to consider occupational therapy—it’s been proven to be one of the most effective methods of helping children with autism manage their condition.
This article was featured in Issue 79 – Managing Everyday Life