Occupational therapy is defined by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) as a “skilled treatment that helps individuals achieve independence in all facets of their lives. Occupational therapy assists people in developing the ‘skills for the job of living’ necessary for independent and satisfying lives”.
In autism, occupational therapists work on improving:
- Sensory/Motor Integration.
- Independence in activities of daily living (ADL) like eating, bathing, grooming, dressing etc.
- Skill Building (activities of daily living, handwriting, oro-motor skills, etc).
- Optimizing sensory processes.
- Training for developing gross and fine motor skills.
- Communication, play and social skills.
- Occupational therapy intervention including SI therapy and development of age appropriate skills for ADL, work and play forms the basis for further treatments, training and appropriate functioning alongside development. Children on the autism spectrum may benefit from occupational therapy, both at home and at school.
The SI activities and strategies are the foundation on which the child’s future learning abilities and normal functioning depend on as sensory integration and modulation deficits have been identified as the root cause to all other problem areas associated with the autism spectrum. As the years go by accommodation may be less required and the individual may consciously learn and apply ways of dealing with sensory distress and challenges. It is best to provide sensory integration therapy and training during the early ages and then slowly wean off, thus maximizing independent functioning during the later ages of life. The goal is to help them maximize their level of independence and lead more meaningful lives.
For example: Temple Grandin devised the hug machine or squeeze box during her college days to calm herself. Every time she felt anxious, frustrated or a sensory overload she used it to relax and cool-off. The increased pressure similar to a human hug provided sensory relief.