Many people on the autism spectrum struggle with everyday activities that others take for granted. Occupational therapy (OT) can develop important skills, which significantly increases independence while improving quality of life. Unfortunately, some families may not be getting the services they need. To fill in the gaps, an independent occupational therapist for individuals with autims can help.
About Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapists help individuals develop skills necessary to become productive and independent in their lives. This professional is an expert in physiological, emotional and social effects of injuries, illnesses and developmental delays. Therapists address both fine motor and gross motor deficits, and they help their clients perform daily activities. Typical OT activities for autism include:
- Self help skills (dressing, grooming, eating)
- Hand-eye exercises
- Exercises to improve strength and dexterity
- Social play
- Computer programs
- Using adaptive equipment (wheelchairs, eating aids)
The activities help children and adults on the spectrum in nearly every aspect of their daily lives. Though the activities don't always seem to relate to specific tasks, they each address a skill set that is important for the individual's ability to live and work with the greatest independence possible.
- Abstract reasoning
- Perceptual skills
A therapist specializing in autism may work in an early intervention program, in schools or as independent consultants. In some cases, families may want to hire an independent OT specialist.
When to Use an Independent Occupational Therapist for Autism
Typically, an occupational therapist is part of a child's treatment team from the start, depending on the child's specific needs. An OT worker working in an early intervention program may visit clients' homes for therapy sessions. Professionals dealing with older children may work in medical facilities or schools. For adults, an OT therapist help clients in work environments, medical facilities and in homes.
It may not be necessary to hire an independent occupational therapist for autism because in most instances, the individual has an OT in his or her treatment plan. IDEA ensures that school-aged children receive a free and appropriate public education which includes services like speech and OT therapy. The therapy is usually in the child's Individual Education Plan (IEP).
In some cases, families may want to outsource an independent therapist for an evaluation, or to supplement their child's current therapy. Older clients may need help with daily living skills, or they may need an OT professional to help them find and maintain employment. Sometimes a person who needs OT does not receive it in his or her program, which makes outsourcing necessary.
How to Find an Independent Therapist
Finding a professional who is qualified to work with people on the autism spectrum takes some research. Searching through the Yellow Pages can be exhausting, and it can yield disappointing results. Some organizations have searchable databases that can help make the search much easier.
- Autism Source is an online resource database from the Autism Society of America. The site allows visitors to search for service providers and professionals by state.
- The Family Services Resource Guide from Autism Speaks allows visitors to search for resources by state.
- The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has a Career Center that allows registered users to search profiles of candidates looking for work as occupational therapists.
- Instead of looking for an OT who specializes specifically in autistic disorders, you may have better luck finding someone who deals with sensory processing disorder. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation has a searchable treatment directory that includes occupational therapists.
No matter which path you take, you do want to consider the qualities of a good therapist.
Qualities of a Good Therapist
A good OT therapist has certain qualities that stand out. Things to look for when working with a therapist include:
- Writes goals specific to the individual
- Provides one-to-one treatment
- Includes parents and caretakers in the treatment
- Has experience with autism
- Keeps data and tracks progress
- Good communication skills
The ideal therapist keeps you informed of your loved one's progress, and encourages you to become an active part of the treatment plan. With your combined efforts, the person affected by autism has a greater chance of living a fulfilling, independent life.