Occupational therapy (OT) is the use of assessment and intervention to develop, recover, or maintain the meaningful activities, or occupations, of individuals, groups, or communities. It is an allied health profession performed by occupational therapists. Occupational Therapists often work with people with mental health problems, disabilities, injuries, or impairments.
An occupational therapist works systematically with a client through a sequence of actions called the occupational therapy process. There are several versions of this process as described by numerous scholars. All practice frameworks include the components of evaluation (or assessment), intervention, and outcomes.This process provides a framework through which occupational therapists assist and contribute to promoting health and ensures structure and consistency among therapists.
Occupational therapists work with infants, toddlers, children, and youth and their families in a variety of settings including schools, clinics, and homes. Occupational therapists assist children and their caregivers to build skills that enable them to participate in meaningful occupations. These occupations may include: feeding, playing, socializing, and attending school.
Occupational therapy services for individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder include evaluation, intervention, and measurement of outcomes. Throughout the process, collaboration with the child or adult with autism, family, caregivers, teachers, and other supporters is essential to understanding the daily life experiences of the individual and those with whom he or she interacts. Occupational therapy services can focus on personal development, quality of life, and the needs of the family
Occupational therapy with children and youth with Autism may take a variety of forms. For example:
- Promoting a wellness program in schools to prevent childhood obesity
- Facilitating handwriting development in school-aged children
- Providing individualized treatment for sensory processing difficulties
- Teaching coping skills to a child with generalized anxiety disorder
- Helping children achieve their developmental milestones such as fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
- Educating and involving parents, carers and others to facilitate the normal development and learning of children.
- Designing individual and group programs and activities to enhance clients’ independence in everyday activities.
- Developing coping strategies for clients in overcoming their mental health issues.
- Improving clients’ confidence and self esteem in social situations.
- Support in transitions such as starting school
- Sensory processing to identify difficulties and their impact on daily life, then provide strategies and treatment as needed
- Visual cues to support routines, and introduce new activities or a change in task.
- Introducing routines to provide structure, manage daily life and cope with changes in routine
- Physical skills to help develop strength and coordination and enable a child to participate in activities with their peers
Occupational therapy practitioners also help people with autism adjust tasks and conditions to match their needs and abilities. Such help may include adapting the environment to minimize external distractions, finding specially designed computer software that facilitates communication, or identifying skills they need to accomplish tasks.
Children with autism can access occupational therapy most easily through schools (In most Western countries like US, UK, Canada) because public law mandates its availability to students with disabilities who need it. In addition, many insurance plans cover private occupational therapy for children with autism, and because of the severity of the disability, many states offer a waiver that qualifies families with higher incomes to access occupational therapy using Medicaid dollars.