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Posts tagged ‘occupational therapy’

Two Tips for Finding & Working With a Great Occupational Therapist for Autism

Most parents of kids with autism constantly ask themselves, “Am I doing enough to help my child?”  And yet, thousands agree on a specific type of therapy that they feel has helped their child most: occupational therapy.  We’ve asked over 40,000 parents of kids with autism on MyAutismTeam “What therapies, if any, work best for your child?”  Out of all responses, the number one answer was occupational therapy (OT).

When we explored this area more with our parents to find out why OT was so useful, and how to pick the right OT for your child, two tips surfaced:

Tip 1: Finding an OT Trained in Sensory Processing Disorder or Sensory Integration Can Make a Huge Difference for Your Child

Useful skills for sensory overload

“Five minutes with [our  OT trained in Sensory Integration] and we had a wealth of information on techniques for calming [when overstimulated], ideas for a sensory diet [that helps prevent sensory overload], and tools for managing crises.  [For each skill] our OT provided us with a hands-on demonstration for how to work with our child [so that we could do it ourselves].”

The “sensory diet” can be incorporated into the school setting

“Our OT not only explained the sensory issues our son had, but she [also] gave us strategies [and a written 'sensory diet'] so that he can be as independent as possible.  A lot of the activities in his sensory diet can be incorporated into his daily routines.  His school also has a copy, and his IEP states that he can be given sensory breaks when needed.”

Sensory issues impact all areas of day-to-day living

“Both outside and school occupational therapy have helped our now 14 year old son [with everything from] being able to be hugged, to touching food with his fingers, [avoiding] hand cramps from being so forceful when using a pencil,…wiping his mouth with a napkin, [and] putting his face under the shower water.”

Tip 2: Partner with Your OT and Reinforce the Goals at Home  

“Even the greatest OT needs help and support from the family.  Take what the OT teaches and then add skills done at home to reinforce the goal of your child living [independently] in society.”

“You know a great OT when they have a one-on-one with you and they take what you say into the therapy room.  They let you see what they are doing and they give you homework!  OT has to be done at home by you!  It doesn’t start and stop with the therapist.”

“Our OT never made our family feel like we were not doing things right, and she was super supportive in finding answers to the questions we had.  She really listened to what we thought his major challenges were and we worked together from there.”

Warm Reception from OT’s

Last week we shared these results with OT’s who specialize in autism at the American Occupational Therapy Association‘s Annual Conference in San Diego.   They were thrilled to see the response to OT by parents in the autism community and genuinely hungry to hear the parent perspectives and anecdotes about autism and OT.  We were swamped with questions following the talk and really moved by the passion of the OT community to make a difference in the lives of individuals with autism.

If you already have an OT that you and your child love, please be sure to add them to your team on, today.  If you’re looking for an OT, follow the tips above and start your search by connecting with parents on MyAutismTeam near you to see which OT’s they are using.

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More information on Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists (OT’s) and Occupational Therapist Assistants (OTA’s) help individuals with autism gain independence and participate more fully in life by integrating cognitive, physical and motor skills.

These skills might include:

- Daily living skills (dressing, grooming, going to the bathroom)
- Fine motor skills (writing and cutting with scissors)
- Gross motor skills
- Playing, coping, sharing, self-regulation, and social skills

By definition, occupational therapy is tailored to the specific developmental needs of the child – and the will evolve as the the child turns into an adolescent and an adult.

Other good reads:

The Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit has a primer on OT and other therapies that is quite useful.

What to Ask of an Occupational Therapist” – from The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism offers more information on sensory diets and everything else your OT can help you with.

Top 8 Autism Therapies – As Reported by Parents of Kids with Autism

(Originally posted as a guest blog on Autism Speaks)

Every parent of a child with autism asks themselves, “Am I doing enough to help my child?”  They look to doctors, specialists, and (particularly) other parents with kids just like theirs for ideas and for validation that they are on the right course.  With more therapies out there than there are hours in the week and dollars in the bank account / second mortgage to pursue them, parents are forced to prioritize.  So what are the “best” therapies out there?  Which ones work best for other kids just like yours?  We asked the world’s foremost experts – parents of kids with autism – that very question.   To be specific, we asked the parents on - a social network for more than 28,000 parents of individuals with autism – the following question: “What therapies, if any, worked best for your child”?   

Here’s an example of what that question and answer looks like in the story of one mother on MyAutismTeam.  

About one-third of the parents on MyAutismTeam have answered this question and more do every day as it is part of the sign-up process.   What’s beautiful about this question is that it is highly personal.  It doesn’t ask, “What are the best therapies for autism?”  Instead, it asks the parent to list the therapies that work best for their child.   What “works best” for one child on the spectrum may not work at all for another child or, in the case of occupational or speech therapy, need to be significantly tailored to the developmental needs of each child.  Still, there is power in seeing how thousands of parents answer this question.  We counted up all the therapies mentioned.  Most parents answer this question by listing one or two therapies.

Here are the therapies parents reported as working best for their children, rank-ordered by percent of mentions and including only those therapies that received at least 1% of mentions:

1. Occupational Therapy – 39%

2. Speech Therapy – 27%

3. ABA Therapy – 15%

4. Social Skills Classes – 8%

Hippotherapy, or equine-assisted occupational therapy, can be therapeutic for many children with sensory processing disorders

5. Hippotherapy (OT through horseback riding) – 2%

6. GFCF Diet – 2%

7. Psychiatrist/Psychologist sessions – 2%

8. (5-way tie, each with 1%): Floor Time, RDI, PECs, Swimming, PRT

Other therapies / keywords listed that got less than 1% of mentions

  • Mainstream schooling – 0.1%
  • iPad – 0.1%
  • Vision therapy, aqua therapy 
  • Vitamin supplements, Chelation, Hyperbaric Chambers – (all combined these last three terms received less than one-tenth of one percent of mentions)

What Does It Mean?

To be clear we are not doing rigorous science here and this is not meant to be comprehensive research but rather a reflection of what about 8,000 parents said worked best for their child.   Here were a few of my take-aways:

  1. Early intervention is working: OT, Speech,  ABA and Social Skills therapy win the mentions tally in a landslide.  Floor Time, RDI, PECs, PRT and equine-assisted OT (horseback riding therapy) also would be included in that group as they are often led by an OT.  The overwhelming majority of parents surveyed said it “worked best” for their child.  Occupational therapists help children on a wide range of developmental topics including sensory processing disorder, motor skill development, social interaction, potty training, sleep training and much more.  To learn more about occupational therapy and a range of other early intervention therapies download the free 100-Day Kit from Autism Speaks and also read through the long list of other tool-kits on more specific topics such as ABA therapy.  In addition you can check out the Autism Treatments page and video glossaryon Autism Speaks for more background on early intervention.

    Autism Speaks free 100 Day Kit explains most therapies available for autism.

  2. Early intervention services tend to be the ones offered to parents by the state and by the public school systems as they are evidence-based therapies.  ABA therapy tends to be one of the only therapies covered by insurance companies in states that mandate insurance companies to cover autism.  Naturally, more parents are going to have tried these services than some alternative therapies not covered by their schools or their insurance.   For instance, many parents rave about hippotherapy on MyAutismTeam, but share that they are unable to continue it for budget reasons.
  3. That said, many parents on MyAutismTeam have tried out everything possible over the years in their quest to help their children.  Of those, only a handful point to expensive or non evidence-based therapies such as chelation or hyperbaric chambers as being the thing that worked “best” for their child.  Many parents report that in terms of bang-for-your buck, sticking with OT and Speech is best.
  4. Just because a therapy isn’t mentioned on this list doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.  I want to pro-actively address this issue and prevent an onslaught of comments about all the therapies we’ve left off.  This was an “unaided survey” meaning we just asked the question but didn’t offer a multiple choice list of answers.  We let parents answer this question in whatever they wish and have simply counted up and categorized the therapies that came to the top of their mind as being best for their child.

Find Out What Works Best for Your Child

One key thing to remember here is that these answers reflect the broad range of parents on MyAutismTeam with children from all parts of the autism spectrum.  We all know what works for one child on the spectrum may not do anything for another child with different developmental needs.   The question most parents want to answer is, “What therapies work best for kids just like mine.”   One of the best way to get constant, up-to-date answers on that question is to build relationships with other parents of kids like yours.  You can do that for free by joining MyAutismTeam.  You can click on “Find Parents” and search for parents of kids like yours.  Connect with them, learn what is working for them, and share what is working for you.    If you need a recommendation of an occupational therapist, or speech pathologist, you can see which providers other parents near you have on their teams.    There’s a lot of wisdom in the collective experiences of 28,000 parents of kids with autism.   You’re not alone and you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

Other useful resource for learning about early intervention and autism therapies include The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and the CDC’s Autism Page.

Teens IQ’s and Brains Can Change – Of Course!

“IQ is malleable.”   A recent study published online in Nature and summarized in the Wall Street Journal found evidence that IQ is not fixed (as was once thought), but instead can change over time correlated with changes in the brain.  Specifically the study looked at 33 British teens (the sample was too small to draw broad conclusions for all teens), giving them an IQ test and MRI in 2004 and again in 2008.  What they found is that IQs jumped up or down for about 1 in 5 teens and those changes corresponded to changes in the brain.

There is speculation that the change in brain structure and associated change in IQ is the result of learning experiences.  In other words environmental factors, mental engagement, learning new thing, can all affect brain structure and intelligence.

The quantitative side of me was alert to the small sample size and correlation/causality questions, but my non-scientific, gut reaction to this news screamed out, “Of course it does!”  It immediately made me think of early intervention, of aggressive, hands-on speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy and all the proven good it does for children on the autism spectrum.   So many of the parents on MyAutismTeam report that early intervention therapy had the biggest impact on their children.   That learning and focused attention matters enormously and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it alters the brain, and changes IQs (or whatever measure of intellectual potential you wish to measure).   Doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me at all.  I think time, and larger studies will prove that this is one more reason to fight for early intervention and never give up on our kids.


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