Role of Occupational Therapy in Autism

On February 02, 2024


The role of occupational therapy in autism extends across remediation of simple sensitivity issues to complex cognitive and academics ones.

Myths and Facts about Occupational Therapy: Sensitivity issues are very minor and subtle area to be addressed by an occupational therapist. Most commonly, OT gets referral for sensitivity issues only. This is a great misconception among health professionals that OT is only to resolve problems arising out of sensitivity in one or another sensory modality such as tactile or auditory sensitivities. But, reality is that by taking a long course of occupational therapy a child with autism: Can feel their body and body parts

Can locate himself in the space

Can relate things in the environment

Can listen and respond to any given instruction

Can attempt a task confidently

Can understand his surrounding environment

Ccan learn daily life tasks faster

Can improve postural adjustment

Can participate in outdoor games more confidently

Reduced anxiety

Reduced impulsivity

Disappearance of fidgeting behavior

Disappearance of sensitivity related odd behaviors

Increased level of attention span

Better sitting and waiting tolerance

Better perceptual fine motor performance leads to learn functional tasks easily

Coordinated handwriting

Better planning skills

Better performance at reading and mathematics

Automatic improved vocal ability

Improved socialization and self-esteem.


Above are few to count only. This is quite surprising that they either knowingly or unknowingly keep kids with autism away from the treatment they require most for leading an independent & productive life. There is a great need to put light on the role of occupational therapy in autism in little detail to beak the myth.

Concerns of Parents: Every parent wants the development of their kids must be on time. It should be age appropriate. A little delay makes them anxious and alert.  Any physical or mental delay drives them to seek medical help. This is truer if the delay is of physical in nature. Behavioral delay is generally identified a little late such as autism. But parents need not worry, rather they need right guidance to start the right treatment as early as possible.

Professional Network of Referral System: Since speech delay is a very noticeable symptom in autism, parents directly go to speech therapist. some goes to psychiatrist, whereas some goes to psychologist. Ultimately, they are referred for occupational therapy. Why ultimately because those professionals can not address the basic problems of child development. They address behavioral or cognitive aspects mainly which does not help a lot in solving the parental concerns. Although only the team effort of every related professional can give best result, it is occupational therapy (OT) which is required the most and first.

Significance of Occupational Therapy in Treatment of Autism: Occupational therapy settles the problems for which the child was not responding to other interventions.  Pediatric occupational therapy helps children to calm down from their sensory overload. OT helps develop proper eye contact, sitting habits, and attention span. These abilities are very much needed for other professionals to be able to work with the child to implement their therapeutic strategies. OT helps achieve independence in all areas of daily living by addressing their physical, sensory, or cognitive challenges. Treatment involves purposeful activities provided through play and fun guided by approaches like sensory integration therapy, neurodevelopmental therapy, acquisitional and behavioral frame of references of OT.

Sensory Processing: OT helps optimize the sensory processing in the central nervous system. In autism, the sensory information in brain gets stuck or overloaded. It happens due to disturbed mechanism of central inhibition along with imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory sensory input. The level of arousal depends on the dominant input which stays back after cancelling each other and by exerting central inhibition. OT tries to maintain balance of sensory information by providing inhibitory or excitatory input externally. This brings the brain back the optimum level of arousal and helps reduce sensory seeking/avoiding behavior. Child’s hyperactivity, fidgeting behavior, decreased level of attention, poor sitting habit and eye contact are addressed with this intervention.

Tactile and Proprioceptive Sensory Input: Also known as somatosensation which helps enhance body image or body schemata. Body scheme is very much needed to use our own body parts effectively during any tasks. Somatosensation is the first need to develop motor planning abilities be it postural planning, constructional planning or oral ones. In simple terms, it will help develop the ability of imitation and motor learning. Whenever there comes the matter of motor planning, cognition part becomes associated with OT. Both somatosensatopn and vestibular input together helps develop postural control, bilateral integration and sequencing abilities. These abilities help us carry out day to day tasks smoothly without our conscious efforts. In this way, sensory integration therapy does not only help in calming down the child with autism and helping them in motor learning but also enhances the ability to learn any given task quickly.

Vestibular Sensory Input: Since vestibular input is an important aspect of sensory integration, regular input of vestibular sensation helps build spatial abilities which is a key ability for academic learning. So, the impact of occupational therapy is not limited to the activities of daily living only but extends far beyond that up to cognitive and academic areas too. Reading, writing and mathematical calculation can be improved by facilitating mature vestibular reflexes. Problems of dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia are logically treated by an occupational therapist. This is why OT is an urgent need for every school as well.

Conclusion: Occupational therapy is the first and very basic need for kids with autism or delayed speech, in absence of which there can never be the holistic development of a child with neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. We at Sensational Child Clinic have got a well equipped set up and specialist occupational therapist who not only provide extensive occupational therapy but also monitor the progress of the child through repeated detailed assessment.

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