Occupational therapy helps individuals participate as full as possible in everyday activities that they want and need to do. It involves specialized techniques for increasing independence with these daily activities that may involve physical, cognitive, sensory, and motor skills. In the case of a child, their "occupation" is playing and learning. Therefore, an occupational therapist can help kids develop skills that will help them become more independent with playing and learning.
Occupational therapy services include evaluation, intervention, and measurement of outcomes.
For individuals with autism, interventions to help an individual respond to information coming through the senses is a focus. This intervention may include developmental activities, sensory integration or sensory processing, and play activities.
Occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach typically takes place in a sensory-rich environment sometimes called the "OT gym." During OT sessions, the therapist guides the child through fun activities that are subtly structured so the child is constantly challenged but always successful.
Examples of the developmental needs that may be addressed include:
- Facilitating movement
- Helping a child learn to follow 2- or 3- step instructions
- Helping a child develop the ability to dress and maintain proper hygiene
- Building skills for sharing, taking turns, and playing with peers
- Handling emotional and behavioral needs as they related to everyday activities and social interaction
- Helping a child learn to cope with disappointment or failure; and
- Teaching the ability to use toys and materials in both traditional and creative manners
In terms of working with school systems, practitioners work to provide consultation to teachers about how classroom design affects focus and where to best seat a child based on their learning style or other needs.
Students have been able to receive occupational therapy at school since the 1975 passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law stipulate that students with disabilities must have access to the therapy if they need it to benefit from special education.
Those who are found to need occupational therapy will have the therapy included in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Occupational therapy services are also offered through local health centers, hospitals, private clinics, and home health agencies. It is covered by private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, workers' compensation, vocational programs, behavioral health programs, early intervention, and school programs.
For more information, please visit The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. at www.aota.org.