Occupational Therapy

by Mallory Pritchard, M.S., OTR/L

category: Category: Autism

What is Occupational Therapy?

The “occupation” of children is to thrive in all of life’s settings. Occupational therapists work with children, young adults, and their families to facilitate active participation and independence.

Occupational Therapy (OT) services focus on enhancing participation in the performance of activities of daily living (e.g. feeding, dressing), instrumental activities of daily living(e.g. community mobility, safety), education, work, leisure, play, and social participation.

What does Occupational Therapy Treatment Involve?

OT services for people with autism are provided in settings that will engage the client in daily activities. Some of these include the home, school, worksite, adult day care, or an outpatient clinic. Services include evaluation, intervention, and measurement of outcomes. It is important that family members, educators, caregivers, and other support members collaborate to determine an individualized intervention plan for the client.

Occupational Therapists address specific skills such as fine motor development, visual processing skills, strengthening, coordination, handwriting, sensory integration, job training, and modification/adaptation.

Sensory Integration treatment is performed by occupational therapists and has been successful in decreasing behaviors and helping with regulation skills in people with autism.

How Do I Find an Occupational Therapist?

Children birth-three years of age can qualify for services through state funded early intervention. Contact your local agency to set up the referral process.

School-based occupational therapy is available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If your child does not currently receive OT services through your local preschool or school system, discuss possible evaluation with his or her case manager or special education director.

Outpatient services are provided in many states. For OT evaluation, a clinic will need a prescription from your child’s physician. Your local healthcare provider should be able to recommend a local OT for your family.

Please note that the process to receive special education services varies by state. For more information, contact your child’s locally zoned school or the special education director for your child’s school district.

Who Pays for Therapy Services?

Occupational therapy is a skilled, rehabilitation service that is covered through school systems, private health insurance, and Medicaid. However, policies vary within each company and by state or employment agency.

Is There Research Supporting Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is an evidence-based practice for all ages of the lifespan. OT research shows the role of OT in developing fine motor and handwriting skills in both preschool and school-aged individuals.

In regards to autism spectrum disorders, evidence shows that sensory integration therapy can assist in decreasing a child’s behaviors. The results of a study conducted in 2011 showed significant changes in the autistic mannerisms (a component of social responsiveness) and significant progress toward individualized goals in the areas of sensory processing and regulation, social–emotional function, and fine motor skills.

Alexander, K. C., MS, OTR/:L, & Kuhaneck, H. M., PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA. (2015).
Successful Participation at School: Strategies for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved February 4, 2016, from https://www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/AboutOT/Professionals/WhatIsOT/CY/ASD-Tips-for-Educators-Successful-Participation-at-School.pdf

Beth A. Pfeiffer, Kristie Koenig, Moya Kinnealey, Megan Sheppard, Lorrie Henderson;
Effectiveness of Sensory Integration Interventions in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Study. Am J Occup Ther 2011; 65(1):76-85. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2011.09205.

Case-Smith, J., & Arbesman, M. (2008). Evidence-based review of interventions for
autism used in or of relevance to occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62, 416–429.

Jane Case-Smith; Effectiveness of School-Based Occupational Therapy Intervention on
Handwriting. Am J Occup Ther 2002; 56(1):17-25. doi: 10.5014/ajot.56.1.17.

Michele L. Alaniz, Eleanor Galit, Corina Isabel Necesito, Emily R. Rosario; Hand
Strength, Handwriting, and Functional Skills in Children With Autism. Am J
Occup Ther 2015;69(4):6904220030p1-6904220030p9. doi:10.5014/ajot.2015.016022.

Scott, J. B., MA, FAOTA. (2011). Occupational Therapy’s Role with Autism. Retrieved
February 4, 2016, from https://www.aota.org/-/media/corporate/files/aboutot/professionals/whatisot/cy/fact-sheets/autism fact sheet.pdf