Being a parent is never easy. It comes with its own rewards and challenges, and those rewards and challenges can be significantly amplified when you have a child with autism. Fortunately, many children on the autism spectrum have a legally protected right to occupational therapy through public schools, and many more can receive fully covered private occupational therapy through health insurance and federal and state programs. This therapy can be incredibly helpful for both the children and their parents.
Occupational therapy focuses on helping people perform everyday activities that are needed to get by. People recovering from injuries, dealing with mental illness, and people with developmental delays can all benefit from occupational therapy.
In the context of autism, occupational therapy can be an important tool for gaining skills that might come more readily to children who aren’t on the autism spectrum. These skills can include learning to play with other children, learning to listen to instructions, communicating basic needs, and feeding, bathing, and dressing oneself.
In our Chicago pediatric therapy practice, we regularly work with families who are affected by autism. The process starts with assessment. An initial assessment can include discussion with the parents and teachers about behavior patterns, observed problem areas, any diagnosed medical conditions, and questions and concerns. The goal is to determine where the biggest concerns lie and to create an intervention plan that will work for both the child and the family.
Meeting Children and Families Where They’re At
When working with kids with autism, we like to meet with them in environments where they feel most comfortable to help reduce stress, encourage positive associations, and make the whole process easier for everyone. We’ll often work with children in their homes, back yards, or even favorite local parks.
Specific therapies that can be helpful for children with autism often start with identifying any underlying sensory issues and creating games or routines that help address those issues. An estimated 80% of children with autism have sensory processing issues, which means that these children have trouble filtering out sounds, sensations, and/or sights that overwhelm them. (Imagine listening to thumping music all day with a strobe light blaring in your vision, and you might begin to understand why some children with autism act out.) Understanding what sensory issues may be at play makes it easier to address those issues with tools like weighted blankets, massage, and soft tag-free clothing that help children feel more relaxed and at ease in their own skins.
Working with the family is also an important part of occupational therapy for children with autism. As a parent, caretaker, or sibling, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed and have trouble empathizing with certain behaviors. An occupational therapist can help by showing the whole family how to incorporate play therapy and more positive responses into their existing routines at home.
If you’re looking for occupational therapy in Chicago for your child, please give our office a call. We’d be happy to answer any questions and provide more information and resources.