Expert Explains The Benefits Of Occupational Therapy For Children With Autism

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have difficulties in processing their senses to surrounding stimuli.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others.

It's called a "spectrum" disorder because it affects individuals in different ways with varying degrees of severity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 36 children have been identified with ASD, and autism is four times more common among boys than girls.

Individuals with ASD often have restricted interests and repetitive behaviours, as well as learn in ways that are different, which often calls for more support and acceptance from others.

Among the many types of interventions, occupational therapy has proven to be vital in helping children with autism develop the skills needed for daily living

We spoke to paediatric occupational therapist Erica Chieng, who explained that occupational therapy helps people with autism develop and maintain skills to become independent in work, play, recreation, and carrying out activities of daily living.

The therapy is important as autistic children often have difficulties in processing their senses to surrounding stimuli, such as sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, proprioception, balance, and interoception (internal signals from your body, like when you're hungry).

"Up to 80% of people with ASD have sensory processing difficulties, to which they can respond with either hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity, depending on their mood and stimuli," said Chieng, who graduated with a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) degree from Perdana University.

A person with ASD who is experiencing sensory difficulties may:
– Get overwhelmed easily
– Cover their ears or eyes often
– Act overly active by jumping, spinning, or crashing into things
– Make repetitive movement or sounds, known as stimming
– Have low muscle tone, or look floppy
– Have frequent motion sickness or dizziness
– Like to chew on non-food items
– Become a picky eater
– Not like to be touched, such as during hair and fingernail cutting
– Not like certain clothing items or textures

Occupational therapists work by assessing, developing, and teaching individuals with ASD how to process and regulate their own unique sets of sensory difficulties

As every child's sensory processing needs are different, occupational therapists have to come up with suitable strategies for children to learn skills that will become helpful in activities of daily living such as wearing their own clothes, eating a meal, handwriting, and playing games.

The aim is to for the child to stay calm and focused so they may learn new skills, play, and interact with others.

"With the understanding of the sensory patterns of each individual with ASD, occupational therapists can customise a sensory integration programme for them, which is often through play-based and interest-based approaches to make it very fun and motivating!" Chieng added.

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