A person who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often has trouble communicating and interacting with other people; his or her interests, activities, and play skills may be limited. Occupational therapy may help people with Autism develop these skills at home and in school. (Source)
- What does an Occupational Therapist do?
- Why Occupational Therapy not Physiotherapy?
- Why do Occupational Therapists use Sensory Integration programs?
- What is Sensory Integration ?
- What questions should I ask an Occupational Therapist?
- What certifications and/or experience should I look for in a Therapist?
- Other Things to Consider
What does an Occupational Therapist do?
The Occupational Therapist assists individuals with disabilities achieve their optimal level of independence in purposeful activity performance.
Why Occupational Therapy not Physiotherapy?
Many children with ASD present with difficulties with fine motor and/or gross motor skills and sensory issues which affect their ability to engage in daily activities and roles.
Activities could include self-help skills such as doing up buttons or the development of good pencil skills which will then affect the person’s ability to engage in an occupation or activity such as dressing or drawing.
Roles would include the role of being a student or a friend. An inability to maintain good postural control, for example, would mean that the child would find it difficult to sit at a school desk for any length of time which would affect his ability to fulfil his role as a student. Similarly, if the child has poor spatial awareness his body language towards his peers may put up barriers to developing friendships which affects his attempts to develop his role as a friend.
Thus Occupational Therapy assists the individual to develop the necessary physical skills, where needed, to make the engaging in activities or roles more accessible to them through individualized, specifically targeted programs.
Why do Occupational Therapists use Sensory Integration programs?
Many children with ASD have sensory problems. They may be Hypersensitive (overly sensitive) and/ or Hyposensitive (unable to access the usual level of sensation when engaged in an activity). An Occupational Therapist may use a Sensory Integration Program to promote effective integration of the senses in order to develop a child’s ability to register, process and respond to sensory information in his/her environment, thereby improving learning, behaviour and activity participation.
What is Sensory Integration ?
Ayres (1972a) defined sensory integration as the neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively within the environment.
What questions should I ask an Occupational Therapist?
When looking for an Occupational Therapist to work with your child, you may wish to consider the following:
- Is the Therapist registered with and have they had their qualifications validated for work by the Department of Health and Children?
- Is the therapist registered with CORU?
- Does he or she have Garda Clearance to work in Ireland?
- Does the Therapist have previous Paediatric experience including Autism specific experience and training?
What certifications and/or experience should I look for in a Therapist?
- Sensory Integration Certification (at level 1 or above)
- Other relevant training in Sensory Integration theory (this may include hands on experience, in service training days, or courses run by the Sensory Integration Network)
- Specialist training in Sensory techniques such as the Wilbarger Deep Pressure Brushing and Joint Compression Protocol; use of Sensory Diets and self-regulation programmes such as, “How Does Your Engine Run?”
- Knowledge of neurodevelopmental approaches for increasing motor learning and control, muscle tone and trunk stability
- Knowledge and experience of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) techniques and how best to implement Occupational Therapy intervention within this framework if appropriate
- Experience or specific training working and administering assessments for Dyspraxia (motor planning disorders);
- these may include the Movement Assessment Battery for Children or the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency and knowledge of Programme such as Stretch and Grow
- Knowledge of handwriting assessment and intervention tools; if this is an area of difficulty for your child, can the therapist provide and support specialist programmes such as, “Handwriting Without Tears”?
- Knowledge or training in communication methods to include Irish Sign Language, Lamh, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) and use of visual schedules to aid learning for children with expressive and receptive language difficulties.
Other things to consider
- Are you required to have your child re-assessed prior to Therapy commencement? (in this instance, it is important to provide Therapists with any assessments completed within the last year as some assessments cannot be repeated in this time frame as they lose their reliability and validity due to the child’s or parents’ familiarity with test materials)
- Is the Therapist practising as a basic grade or a senior (3 years plus experience) and is this reflected in the cost of Therapy sessions?
- Where will Therapy being taking place and are parents required to purchase equipment for sessions including sensory items such as weighted vests or blankets, body sox, scrub brushes etc?
- How many other children will be receiving Therapy with your child i.e. are sessions group or individually based?
- Will the Therapist be delivering sessions in the child’s school or home environment? If school are involved, will consultation with teachers take place and programmes be provided for teaching staff to follow under the Therapist’s guidance?
- Will parents be provided with home programme activities to complete in the interim between Therapy sessions?
- How frequently will sessions be provided and what is the hourly rate being charged? (80 to 100 euro per hour is the typical rate)
- Will the Therapist participate in the child’s IEP meeting if required? If so, is there an additional charge for this?
There is a lot to consider, and it may feel overwhelming! If you feel you need a hand, please contact us and we can help find you the support you need.
If you’d like further information on Occupational Therapy and Sensory Integration, we encourage you to visit the following resources.
Sensory Integration Education, UK
Accredited, high quality Ayres’ SI Therapy courses
Sensory Processing Disorder
A comprehensive online resource for parents of children who may have SPD
Royal College of Occupational Therapists
Autism Friendly Product Providers
Visit the following providers for special products and resources for those with specific needs.
A family run, Irish toy company that specializes in products for children with special needs or learning disabilities
A UK based company specializing in sensory products
Since their founding in 1978, Southpaw has been dedicated to developing and manufacturing sensory integration dysfunction and neurodevelopmental products to help therapeutic professionals, people with special needs, their families and other professionals solve problems and overcome challenges.
A UK based company specializing in sensory solutions for special needs
Super Duper Publications
A US based company that produces creative, colorful educational and therapy materials that you and your children will love
A UK based leading independent sensory equipment provider, from single catalogue items through to entire environments
If there is something specific you are looking for, please contact us and we will do our best to help!
If you’d like more information on any of the topics above, please Contact us.