by Nicole (Occupational Therapist at Early Start Australia)
Occupational Therapists are highly underrated allied health professionals. Being one, I can say that with some authority. Seriously though, having just returned from a conference attended by about 750 of us, I can definitely say that they are an amazing bunch of people. The thing is, if you haven’t needed one, chances are you don’t know what an OT is, and how much you are missing out on!
OT’s are university qualified health professionals who are specifically interested in helping people to independently undertake those activities that matter to them most. For children, this quite often means helping them to play. We look at all of those things that can impact on a child’s ability to play – like physical injuries, intellectual impairment or developmental delay. We find out what kids love to do, need to do, and want to do, and help them to do it. This may include giving them special equipment or tools, modifying their environment to better support them, or engaging them in therapy aimed at improving their ability to play.
Children with autism can benefit from Occupational Therapy in many different ways. We can help to develop fine motor skills (handwriting, using cutlery, stacking blocks) as well as improve social skills (turn taking, joint attention, making friends). We can help establish alternate methods of communication where speech is limited (PECS, Makaton signing) or provide strategies to help overcome sensory dysfunction (such as hypersensitivity to noises and smells). OT’s can also help with self-care skills such as toileting and dressing.
Many OT’s will undergo ongoing professional development or seek further education to become specialized in different fields. To work with children on the autism spectrum, you will usually find that your therapist has undergone specific training in interventions tailored towards helping children with autism.
If you are a parent of a child with autism, there are questions that you should always ask your therapist, before deciding if they are the right person for you. The following questions are adapted from the Early Intervention for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: “Guidelines for Good Practice” (Roberts & Prior, 2012).
Questions to ask your OT
- What are the specific aims of the program or service you offer?
- Are there any medical or physical risks?
- What assessments are carried out prior to the intervention?
- What is the evidence base for this intervention? (i.e. what proof is there that this works?)
- What evaluation methods have been used to assess the outcome of intervention? (i.e. how good are the studies that have tested this treatment option?)
- Do you make money out of the intervention you are promoting?
- What is known about the long-term effects of this treatment?
- How much does it cost?
- How much time will be involved?
To find an Occupational Therapist, you can go to the Occupational Therapy Australia website and conduct a search using the Find an OT function – https://www.otaus.com.au/find-an-occupational-therapist.
Nicole Grant is an Occupational Therapist and the owner and manager of Brisbane-based paediatric therapy practice, Gateway Therapies. She is also in her final year of completing a doctorate. Her research has explored how parents make decisions about autism interventions and how to help them make intervention decisions based on research evidence and good quality information. Nicole has developed a website for this purpose, and is trialling its effectiveness in improving parents’ confidence with decision-making. She is also on Facebook. To see all of Nicole’s articles, click here.