Autism and the Role of Occupational Therapy
What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobiological condition that can affect the normal function of the gastrointestinal, immune, hepatic, endocrine and nervous systems. It impacts normal brain development leaving most individuals with communication problems, difficulty with typical social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behavior (Autism Canada).
The autistic spectrum includes a range of neurodevelopmental disorders: Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), and Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
The General Characteristics of an Autism Spectrum Disorder include:
- Resistance to change
- Odd repetitive motions
- Preference for being alone
- Aversion to cuddling
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Inappropriate attachments to objects
- Hyperactivity or under-activity
- Over- or under-active sensory responsiveness
- Uneven gross/fine motor skills, such as difficulty grasping objects, or dressing themselves
- Repeating words or monologues
- Laughing, crying, or showing distress for unapparent reasons
- Unresponsive to verbal cues
- Tantrums, and possible aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviors
What is the role of an Occupational Therapist in working with persons with an ASD?
- Evaluate the individual's skills and level of functioning in activities and contexts relevant and meaningful to the individual.
- Assess the individual's strengths and areas for improvement that should be addressed through intervention.
- Identify the impact of the ASD on the individual's functioning and ability to carry out relevant daily life activities and occupations.
- Provide individualized therapy services that are tailored to the person's identified areas of need and that maximize the individual's skills and performance. Therapy services may include occupation-based intervention, purposeful activity, and preparatory methods (AOTA, 2008).
- Support the individual and their family members in coping with the challenges of living with an ASD.
- Adapt or modify activities, environments, and contexts to support performance and participation in everyday life situations and settings.
Parents, family members, and caregivers of children with ASDs are usually first to notice delays in a child meeting the usual developmental milestones or differences in the ability to speak, make eye contact, play with other children or interact socially. The Autism Society of Canada website explains the process of Screening, Assessment, and Diagnosis of ASD in Canada.
The Autism Society of Prince Edward Island has created a Family Diagnosis Package which helps families to better understand the services and supports that are offered both provincially and federally in regards to Autism Spectrum Disorders. Topics of the package include: What to do next, Preschool Program, School Age Materials, Staffing and Training, Disability Support Program, Provincial Government information, and Federal Government information. The website also features a list of Provincial and National Autism Resources.
Project Lifesaver is a program in which you enroll your child with Autism at risk for wandering. It involves wearing a small personal transmitter that emits an individualized locating signal. If an enrolled person with autism wanders from safety, the caregiver notifies their local Project Lifesaver agency and a trained emergency team responds in the wanderer's area. For more information, check out Project Lifesaver PEI and Project Lifesaver International.