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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:


•    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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Music Therapy for Kids on the Autism Spectrum: A Good Idea?

"My 8-year-old son with high functioning autism loves to sing and wants to join the boys choir at his school. Would this be a good idea? From past experience, he seems to do poorly in group participation activities."

I think this will be great therapy for your son!  In fact, music therapy is how I got started working with autistic children way back in the mid 1980's (before we even knew about Asperger's). Music therapy has been used in conjunction with other therapies for many disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Plus, singing in a group will help with social skills.

As it turns out, music therapy is a great fit for ASD children because it's non-verbal (and non-threatening). It improves the youngster’s ability to be successful at things that are more social, such as tossing a ball to music or using sticks or cymbals to help the child modulate his or her interpretation of sound. Also, therapists can use the child’s preferred music as a reward or as a way to soothe him or her.

Music therapy helps kids with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's to speak better as well. They tend to be able to learn words and to hold onto those words longer when music is associated with the learning of the words. Also, when taught to both autistic children and non-autistic (i.e., neurotypical) children at the same time, music therapy is a great way to integrate ASD children into the social aspect of being around other kids. Few adjustments need to be made to the music class, and the autistic kids can mimic the behavior of neurotypical ones.

Interestingly, in many situations, it’s been found that young people on the spectrum can exhibit great musical ability. Some have perfect pitch while others learn to play musical instruments and can be competitive with other children in their musical abilities. This is probably one of the best reasons that moms and dads should have their ASD child in music class. They may have abilities beyond that which a parent can know that can improve the youngster’s self-esteem greatly.

In addition, some children with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's are fairly quiet, non-talkative individuals - but can communicate very well through their singing voice. This can be a great help to the child who needs to communicate somehow with parents and teachers. Kids on the autism spectrum can learn meaningful responses when incorporated into a song.

Music therapy is one of the most advantageous types of therapy a child on the spectrum can have. From improved communication to improved socialization, many aspects of the child’s life can be maximized.

For help with social skills development that will assist your son in group situations, click on this link: Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management


•    Anonymous said... Encourage anything he's interested in! Music was my lifeline when I was diagnosed. Because I loved it, it didn't matter if it was a group thing or if it was one on one. It was my coping strategy. If it helps with group settings with your son, even better!

•    Anonymous said... Go for it, he can always stop if he does not enjoy it. I think it's great he is showing an interest and as he is the one suggesting it there is more chance of it being a success! I tend to follow my son's lead in choosing after school activities and so far it's worked well. Granted some of his choices would not be my first option lol I hope he has an awesome time.

•    Anonymous said... i have a family member with a/s who sings in a choir,they have even traveled abroad ,she adores it.

•    Anonymous said... Let him, my youngest can't handle group activities and he joined the Kupa Huka group at school as loves performing and he loved it, and did well at it must admit also improved his co-ordination and confidence.

•    Anonymous said... let them try new experiences don't hold them back just in case give them tools and permission to go to a neutral zone if anxious and make sure all adults are aware jp has been doing the science fair where it is quite loud and busy and he has really surprised me. I am so proud of him.

•    Anonymous said... My Aspie son LOVES music and singing and really enjoys the choir. Although it's a group thing, he doesn't have to interact with them as such, just sing along with them

•    Anonymous said... My Aspie son loves music... has played violin for years, didn't do so well Suzuki style but did fine with group Orchestra. Did choir last year, the only boy in a dozen... did great! Granted, part of this was because he didn't have to deal with the other boys in his class, who can be a bit pushy!

•    Anonymous said... My son started choir around that age and flourished. Made friends in the choir room at school. When he gets stressed he goes there to de-stress. At 15 he still loves choir and wants to continue with music. I highly encourage it.

•    Anonymous said... Yes! Its an excellent idea, especially if he has a good voice and loves music! My son loves music and he plays the cello. He likes most string instruments and loves to sing! Music has made a huge difference in his mood and life! I recommend highly!!

•    Anonymous said… Follow whatever they are passionate about... that has been our experience with LB and it seems to work out. Good luck!

•    Anonymous said… Go for it! Just make sure you have good communication with the chorus teacher. My Aspie struggled with some of the social aspects and her perfectionism was a challenge, too. Thankfully, with understanding teachers it continues to be a worthwhile endeavor. My daughter has learned she has a knack for band, chorus and acting as well.

•    Anonymous said… My son was part of the Chorus from staten island that sang at the 2011 academy awards and he's an aspie! I also had my doubts but let him be and try and he did fantastic! He became desensitized to noise and overstimulation and being part of something so special helped his self esteem! He also started giving better eye contact and his grades improved. My advice is let him try he might surprise you like my son did.

•    Anonymous said… The nice thing about choir is it is a social activity with a high degree of structure. I am not a music therapist, but am a music teacher. It has been my experience that children may do very poorly in many group and social settings, yet have a high degree of success in choir if they enjoy singing. I have seen this success pleasantly surprise both the child and the child's peers. It can be a very good thing, or it might not work out, but you won't ever know if you don't let him try.

•    Anonymous said… YES!!!! Our kids tend to be gifted with perfect pitch and often find their tribe in music! My son loves band! what with all the sensory issue possibilities and the sheer size of the band I had my doubts - now after junior high and HS I am so grateful! he will be marching with his favorite college band this Fall and he got a music scholarship! Do it!!!! if he's asking - so much the better!

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The Best Methods for Teaching Students on the Autism Spectrum

"I'm a 4th grade teacher in the Dallas area, and I have two students on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum in my class this school year. What are some of the most important considerations when teaching children with this condition? Thanks in advance!"

The short answer: I would say the use of visual aids and social stories - and go the extra mile to make learning fun.

Children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's (AS) can learn and excel, and if certain teaching methods are used, their progress can be nothing short of fantastic. One of the most important things to realize in making learning fun for these special needs kids is the fact that they learn in different ways than children without this disorder.

Kids on the autism spectrum generally have difficulty with social skills. Sometimes this difficulty involves language skills. However, there are a number of ways to make learning these important skills more than just a chore. By injecting fun into learning, it has been shown that children on the spectrum learn at a faster pace. Of course, fun and learning work well for all types of children, but HFA and AS children are special and require more tailored methods.

Children on the spectrum seem to learn best when the instructional material is presented in visual form. In this case, it might be worthwhile to try different educational programs on the computer. Using a computer is a fun way to learn for these students. The majority of educational programs are highly visual. Many of the games available involve story lines, plots, and realistic human behaviors. Some of the skills these young people can learn from carefully selected video games are language skills, reading and math skills, and social skills.

Visual learning devices are highly effective and can be accompanied by various rewards to reinforce what is being learned. For instance, food and extended leisure activities can be used as rewards that will encourage the child to want to learn. In addition, the use of positive reinforcement will help develop a bond between student and teacher, and create a sense of trust that will help strengthen the learning environment.

Social stories are another way to make learning fun for these children. Since one of the aspects of HFA and AS is the inability to interact normally in a social situation, social stories can be utilized in a variety of different ways in order to model appropriate behavior. By using engaging stories, children can learn appropriate and inappropriate responses to situations. The level of fun, of course, is up to the way social stories are used.

Usually, the stories are specifically tailored to the individual child. By modeling situations familiar to the child, he/she can be better prepared to react in a socially appropriate way to those same situations in the future.

Social stories usually have three distinct ways of addressing a particular situation:
  1. The first describes who, what, where and why in relation to the situation.
  2. The second is a perspective sentence that illuminates how others react to the situation being discussed.
  3. Finally, the third sentence tries to model an appropriate response.

Sometimes the use of social stories can be accompanied by music and pictures. In terms of making the process a bit more fun, rewards can be used when a situation is properly addressed.

Children with HFA and AS  require special education needs to address their social difficulties. It is really important to make these activities as much fun as possible so the student will stay motivated. It is not easy for this child to change his/her response to various situations, so it is imperative that the activities be non-threatening and highly interesting.

It has been demonstrated that, over time, the use of visual aids and social stories are two of the most effective ways to help these students overcome social situations they feel are threatening. To most of us, these situations are normal, everyday occurrences. But to children on the spectrum, they can sometimes be terrifying moments that they do not have the skills to deal with. These teaching methods, while entertaining and fun, can help these children adapt and manage their perceptions of social interactions.

==> The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism


* Anonymous said... My son has Aspergers and was in public school until the middle of fourth grade. It's so wonderful that you're asking this question! Aspie kids can be a huge challenge, but their insights are amazing and their minds are wired so differently that sometimes all I can think is "wow" because he's so bright and quirky. I think you'll enjoy the child. A few things that we wish his teacher understood:

1. Aspie kids tend to "misunderstand" people's intentions regularly, and can react with a "fight or flight" response. For instance, a child who accidentally bumps them will get bumped or pushed back as if it was intentional. Gestures that may be innocent can be interpreted wrongly because they don't understand them. Be patient, and never assume that a child's response is bullying or may just be that they don't "get it." Aspies can also be "rule oriented", meaning that they get very concerned when others don't follow the rules and may take matters into their own hands. Other possible traits: the need to be "first", black and white thinking, and need for routine.

2. Some Aspie kids don't work well in groups. They have a need to control, and don't see others' opinions as worthwhile because they are "mind-blind" (I think that's the word). Find children that they work best with, and always have one eye on their interactions with others in case things don't go well.

3. All kids with autism have some kind of coping mechanism that they use when under stress. (Things like fire drills, substitute teachers, PE or special school days which are out of the ordinary can trigger tough days.) Understand what this child's mechanisms are. My son used to pull his hood or shirt over his face, or hide in the dark cool bathroom. It was his way of shutting things out until he was back in control of his emotions. Allow the child the space and time he or she needs! Their coping mechanisms are very important for future success. (Or, help teach them coping mechanisms if they don't have son's teacher would make sarcastic comments when he hid in the bathroom or punish him for pulling his shirt over his head, causing him to melt down).

4. Meltdowns are inevitable. Make sure there is a process in place among yourself and other administrators to deal with them: a safe place for the child to go, a plan for calming the child down, and help in case the child flees (which some do). Get the parents' input, and make sure the child understands what happens so they know what to expect (no surprises!).

Finally, most parents are willing to work with you to make sure that the child is well-taken care of and that you can manage your classroom. Get their input and understand if they are protective. Good luck!

•    Anonymous said... Ask his or her parents for their advice & tips on how to recognize stress triggers, and how best to help their child grow & succeed. Bear in mind that many Aspies struggle with social cues, and can be ostracized by their peers when they don't fit the mold. Thank you for your sensitivity, from an Aspie mom

•    Anonymous said... Don't negotiate with them… have rules already in place

•    Anonymous said... Find out what his likes are and what stresses him out ie loud sounds or music... reward him with his likes ie specific toys or books. Have a calm down area. For my son who is 7, his teachers have a pencil box filled with his 'goodies' stickers, dinosaur figures, etc. They reward him for staying on task or finishing a task. The Five Star system and token economy system works wonders. I hope you have great support from the parents, ESE, and therapists. You all are an important team. Communication is key within all team members.

•    Anonymous said... get to know what sets them off their little quirks their likes and dislikes lots of prewarning routine and consistency an ea a snoezelen room helps. Noise cancelling head phones if that is an issue. Have ot involved sometimes weight vests help. Listen to the parents

•    Anonymous said... Have patients, have patients, and don't be in a hurry with this child. At times it will be ruff, but know that your willingness to accept him for who he is and treat him as such will be the best advice I can give you. Do not let your frustrations get the best of you because this child is not doing everything like the others, but do have extra help within the room. I would contact your schools Autism Specialist (or county), they are the biggest helps for knowing how to teach a child with ASD.

•    Anonymous said... I am certain that the parents will be thrilled if you offer to spend an hour or two, maybe three times this summer, to meet the child at his/her home. Let the child show you what is important to him, let him get to know you on his turf. Watch how the parents interact, when they speak, how they let him process, etc. He will be so much more at ease when school starts...and so will you.

•    Anonymous said... I must say, on behalf of all parents, THANK YOU for taking the time to care enough to ask that question

•    Anonymous said... I, like many parents who have written, are so thankful that you are taking the time to ask, to care, to learn about our special kids. By even asking the question you've already helped the student.

•    Anonymous said... It makes me realy happy to hear a teacher asking this question, it's a pity more do'nt. Thankyou so much . From an Aspie parent. x

•    Anonymous said... My child's teachers have read a boo called "Aspergers's & the ELementary Experience." They have commented that they found it helpful.

•    Anonymous said... My sons teacher had him go into the classroom a few times before school started, and contacted his therapist and case manager to see what things help/irritate him. I want to thank you for taking the time out to look into this!

•    Anonymous said... My sons teacher would allow him to stand up if he needed to as we'll as take his shoes off (he has sensory issues and this helped him concentrate). My son has some terets tics and she would explain to the other kids that everyone is different and that's alright when kids started staring. She kept in close contact with myself and my husband. My son couldn't go to recess because it was not pleasant for him so he would stay inside and work with a counseling on the computer or just play UNO with her. Please please send notes home prior to any drills you may have (fire, tornadoes, intruder, etc). It will allow the parents to prepare him for the drills so there is less of a chance he will get scared when it happens. Most importantly just be very attentive to the student and always be patient. Thank you for askin because I wish my sons teachers had bothered to ask prior to him getting into 3rd grade.

•    Anonymous said... patience and love

•    Anonymous said... Patience and thinking outside the box. Sometimes the simplest solutions go the furthest distance. Ie my son couldn't remember his spelling list and homework sheet. He had a long term sub who gave me the sheets for the rest of the year. He was still to try to remember, but if he didn't, I had it and we weren't texting around asking for spelling lists. Another example: my son prefers nonfiction. He was allowed to check out a fiction and nonfiction book to test on. Simple, but meaningful solutions. I would also ask the child about where he prefers to sit. My son likes to sit facing the wall to illuminate distractions. There are lots of books about teaching special needs kids in the mainstream classroom...

•    Anonymous said... Thank you to this teacher!!!

•    Anonymous said... treat the child like a person and nurture him, accept him and encourage aspergers child is graduated and starting college in fall..if only everyone had his best interest in mind like i did it would have been lots easier..don't give up on the child..

•    Anonymous said... what an awesome teacher you are! just for asking.

•    Anonymous said... You can start out on the right foot by changing your mind set for the positive. Asperger's is not a disorder it is a difference. Children with Asperger's Syndrome are typically quite smart. I hope you are able to foster a culture of respect in your class so that the other students appreciate the challenges this student faces every day.

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My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content