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The Role of Occupational Therapy in Autism

14th Feb 2018

Child exercising fine motor skills during a session of occupational therapy.One in sixty-eight children in the US falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. This can have a considerable effect in the classroom, and on each student, as autistic children tend to have problems processing sensory information. The condition is known as Sensory Overload, and can lead to behavior issues, a breakdown in the child’s self-confidence, and diminish their willingness to learn.

Sensory overload is common, as autistic children are not able to filter out irrelevant sensory information, such as random noises or images, while they are trying to process the important information they do need from teachers or classmates. It is through occupational therapy (OT) that these students can begin to get a handle on the onslaught of information and break it down effectively, so they can function at school and beyond.


Individualized Therapy is the Key

Occupational therapists make a plan for each student based on their needs and abilities in several areas, including physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and sensory. They work with each child, holistically, to improve their ability to process sensory information and help them to be calm and stay focused.


Sensory Activities Can Help

Two major practices therapists have researched and found to work for these students are sensory diets and sensory circuits.

A sensory diet is basically a specifically designed plan for the child’s daily activity that will space out correct sensory activities throughout the day. Sensory diets have been proven to help the student to better handle distractions and to learn faster, as a result of improved focus and attention span.

Sensory circuits are activities designed to ready the child for learning. A typical beginning-of-day session includes:

  • Alerting activities, such as skipping, which stimulates the nervous system.
  • Organizing activities, like balancing or juggling, to force the brain to work with the body.
  • Calming activities, such as push-ups, to make the child aware of his/her body in its space, which helps them to be able to regulate sensory information on their own.


Occupational therapy is instrumental in giving the child the skill set to self-regulate their incoming information, leading to their ability to be an active and effective participant in life. When he/she is able to actively participate without fear of glitches in their learning and performance, it promotes the self-confidence needed to learn and become independent in all areas of social interaction and the self-esteem boost needed to truly shine the way only that child can.

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