The Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"How can I teach my son to be more self sufficient with daily activities like brushing his teeth, lacing his shoes, taking a bath and so on? He is 5 years old and is high functioning."

One of the best resources for younger children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's (AS) is occupational therapy. Of the different types of therapy, occupational therapy is one of the more practical and easy to understand therapies a youngster can benefit from.

Some HFA and AS children lack basic skills, such as self-care, dressing themselves, eating skills and other life skills that occupational therapy can address. Often, occupational therapy uses play therapy and other kinds of skills to address areas involving fine motor and gross motor skills.

One of the advantages of occupational therapy is that it is very practical and can be tailored directly to your son's specific needs. The therapist will initially do an assessment on him and decide what areas of self-care and activities of daily living need to be addressed.

A treatment plan is made up and, through play and practice, your son can learn skills like brushing teeth, combing hair, and getting dressed. These things have a direct impact on his life-skills.

Unlike physical therapy, occupational therapy has goals that directly affect activities the youngster might do during a given day. It can make a big difference in what you have to do for your son when he can learn to do those things for himself.

Occupational therapy can be done in specific outpatient clinics. You’ll want to choose a therapist that has experience with ASD children in particular. Also, you’ll want to make sure the environment is relatively quiet with few distractions so that the therapist can work directly with your son in an environment that is not over-stimulating.

Any time a child on the spectrum is lacking in basic life skills, consider enrolling him or her in a course of occupational therapy. Results are usually seen in just a few short weeks - and can last a lifetime.

In addition to occupational therapy, parents can use the following technique to accomplish many of the goals achieved through formal therapy:  Backward Chaining: A Cure for Task-Frustration.

More resources for parents of children and teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism:


COMMENTS FROM PARENTS:

•    Anonymous said... build on their skills and resist the urge to do it for them. And, let go of the result being perfect or even half way perfect.

•    Anonymous said... for the bath- if your child's skin isnt sensative to them- you can try bath crayons! Draw or write each step the child needs to take to be clean on the shower/tub wall. (Making sure they understand and know how to do each step properly, of couse.) Then as they do each thing, they can wash it off the list. (Finish with drawing time in the tub as a reward!)as for brushing teeth, pediatric dentists say children don't have the fine motor skills to properly brush alone until they can successfully tie shoes. Granted, not all kids learn to tie their shoes, so parental discretion for that rule is advised. But be prepared to at least do check ups yourself after each brushing for a while- it takes each kid a different amount of time to master those skills. Thats why there's no set age to learn them by (only an age that its usually done by- and theres nothing wrong with unusual :D)

•    Anonymous said... I just want to comment on the shoelace issue. My son, who has Asperger's, ADD inattentive, dysgraphia, and motor skills challenges, but high-functioning too, struggled with tying shoelaces all the way till 3rd or 4th grade. We kept 'teaching' him, assigning time to practice, but the poor soul just could not get to doing it, and struggled in school every time they got undone. Until one of his support teachers at school told me that her son, who was then in his twenties, still could not do so. She said that's why Velcro was invented Well she was right! Since then we have discovered the self-tying coil shoelaces as he got too big to find Velcro strap shoes, and we could move onto other things. This made me realize then what I have always conceptually believed: focus on strengths and not try to force activities or behaviors that are clearly going to cause greater frustration, lack of confidence, and keep them from engaging in other more rewarding activities, whenever possible. Beside that, I agree with everyone, repetition and routine is king. Little steps, constant reminders, etc. An autism school principal told me once that large wall calendars in clear display, help kids in identifying what they have to do next and follow schedules. What works for us is the practice of doing the same activates like clockwork. But other things, I follow his cue. He is 16 now and an awesome kid

•    Anonymous said... I wish I knew. My aspie is 10...

•    Anonymous said... My nine year old still uses Velcro shoes even though they have worked on shoe tying in occupational therapy.

•    Anonymous said... My son is 6 and high functioning but chews his toothbrush so hard and still needs me to bathe him. I think I am going to do a mini schedule for each task like that to break it down. He likes having a schedule w pictures for things.

•    Anonymous said... Repetition and routine. Model the behaviors. Expect to do this always.

•    Anonymous said... Schedules..written on white board or visual aids. Even though it's at home this helps with their executive functioning and will help will life skills.

•    Anonymous said... Social stories, routine and daily diligence . My Aspie daughter is 9 and always does things in order but I taught her the routine.

•    Anonymous said...  Still prompting my son who is almost 21! He is getting more independent with initiating bathroom routines..but some days need a nudge! (Only diagnosed 6mths ago...all this makes sense now.)

•    Anonymous said... I think these are typical aspergers struggles! Believe me you aren't alone. My 12 year old dreads doing all of these things too!

•    Anonymous said... I'm relieved because I really thought I wasn't teaching well enough. This is such a great help.

•    Anonymous said... Make it like a clue game,  Clue #1 go potty Clue#2 brush your teeth (put pictures of him brushing or someone else), Same with dressing, bathing and so on.
My grandson is 15 and he still needs prompts and he to is high functioning. Or put them on cards and let him draw a card out of a box what ti do next, if he completes it he gets a prize

•    Anonymous said... So great to hear we are not alone too. Have a 10 year old hates all things of this nature too! x

•    Anonymous said... We have checklists but it still requires reminders. Mine is 16 and was diagnosed at 8.

•    Anonymous said… My son is 9 and just started a 6 month physical therapy program, after which he will do occupational therapy. The PT will help build up strength and loosen muscles (he has hypotonia), which will better prepare him for the OT. We told his developmental pediatrician that he can't tie his shoes, ride a bike, etc. and this was her recommendation. Oddly enough, he's fantastic at martial arts (Muay Thai) but that will only improve with his PT and OT!! And as, others have posted, we keep his sneakers tied so he can just slip them on and off and his bathroom habits constantly change. He now constantly forgets to brush his teeth or use shampoo or a washcloth in the shower, etc.

•    Anonymous said… Is it possible that he doesn't want to try simply because he's tried and failed in the past? My son is like that - he HAS to be perfect and if he fails at his first attempt at ANYTHING he wants to give up. Of course, we make him try again and once he tastes success, his whole attitude changes (for awhile, anyway). Naturally, this makes him a bit more willing to try harder at other things.

•    Anonymous said… My 5 year old son has been dressing himself (without supervision) for 1 year. Lots of prompting with sequencing (what to do next) since he was 3 has paid off. We don't give him physical help with his daily grooming because I found he would give up too easily and wanted mom/dad to do it all for him. It wasn't an easy thing to do. A lot of screaming/melt downs but it has been so worth it. Because they have issues with sequencing and sensory perception our little ones will have days that seem more difficult than others. I try to remember that when I am teaching him new things. Best wishes!

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