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Occupational Therapy for Autism: How OT helps Kids With Autism

An occupational therapist plays with an autistic child using sensory toys.
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Does your child with autism struggle with daily tasks and social interactions? Occupational therapy may be the key to helping them thrive. Did you know that occupational therapists can work specifically to support children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

In this article, we will explore how occupational therapy can address specific skills such as emotion regulation, sensory processing, and motor skills in autistic children. If you’re looking for effective strategies to help your child reach their full potential, an occupational therapist may be able to help!

Key Takeaways

  • Occupational therapy can help autistic children with important skills such as emotion regulation, sensory processing, motor skills, and daily living skills.
  • Through fun and playbased activities, occupational therapists can teach children a range of skills, including how to manage their emotions better and improve their social interactions.
  • Understanding their sensory processing helps autistic children develop strategies for self-regulation and improve their overall functioning in daily life.
  • Occupational therapists not only work with the child but also provide support to caregivers by offering education, home program activities, and collaborating with the education team.

What is Autism?

An occupational therapist plays with an child

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition. This means, it is a condition that impacts the brain and starts from early childhood. Autistic children and adults have difficulty in social communication and interaction and have restricted or repetitive patterns of thoughts or behaviors.

Social communication and interaction symptoms

Social communication difficulties can exhibit in many ways. However, some of the common symptoms include poor eye contact, abnormal social reciprocity in communication and difficulty with relationships.

An autistic person may have difficulty talk about a common topic with another person where there is back-and-forth conversation. They may have difficulty understanding non-verbal communication. Additionally, they may have trouble understanding different social contexts.

Behavioral pattern symptoms

Some kids have particular sensory needs and preferences. They may not like loud sounds or bright lights. Or they may seek out vestibular movement and lights.

Some often need to follow routines to feel good. Others may have very few interest areas.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy, or OT for short, helps people do everyday tasks. This could mean helping your child learn to tie their shoes, learn in class, or dress themselves. It might help them get better at writing or drawing.

Often, this therapy uses fun and play as part of the learning process. For some kids, it can make daily activities seem less hard. OT is really about building skills to let kids take part in life fully and happily.

Specific Skills Addressed in Occupational Therapy

girl playing

Occupational therapy addresses a wide range of skills for autistic children, including emotion regulation, social interactions, sensory processing, motor skills, daily living skills, and more.

Discover how occupational therapists can help your child thrive. Read More.

Emotion regulation skills

Kids with autism often struggle to manage their feelings. Occupational therapy can help! Therapists teach calming methods to help kids further understand their emotions. They also teach them how to say what they feel inside.

Fun games and role-plays are part of the learning too. This way, your child can handle tough feelings better in daily life. Emotion regulation is key for social interaction and positive behaviors.

With therapy, your child will be more ready to face any emotional bumps that come along.

Social skills and peer interactions

Kids with autism may find it hard to make friends. They might not know how to talk, share or play with others. An occupational therapist can help them learn these skills. The therapist uses fun ways like role-play and videos for teaching.

This helps kids understand social rules better. After that, they cann feel more at ease when they are around other kids. As a result, they enjoy playing and sharing more often.

Sensory processing

Occupational therapy can greatly benefit children with autism by addressing sensory processing issues. Sensory processing refers to how the brain receives and interprets sensory information from the environment.

Many autistic children struggle with sensory overload or have difficulty making sense of sensory input.

Occupational therapists can use sensory integration therapy to help these children better manage their sensory experiences. This type of therapy focuses on improving sensory modulation, which is the ability to regulate responses to different stimuli, and social interactions in individuals with autism.

Through various activities and techniques, occupational therapists can help autistic children develop strategies for self-regulation and improve their overall functioning in daily life.

Motor skills

Motor skills are an important part of your child’s development. They involve using the small muscles in their hands and fingers to do things like writing, drawing, or picking up objects. It also includes big muscles in body and legs to do things like running, jumping, skipping and swimming.

Occupational therapists work with your child to improve their motor skills by analyzing how they do it and teaching them. OTs can help develop skills, such as buttoning clothes, zipping up jackets, and tying shoelaces.

These skills can be challenging for autistic children, but with the right interventions and support from an occupational therapist, they can make progress and become more independent in their daily activities.

Daily living skills

Occupational therapy can help autistic children develop important daily living skills that will support their independence and well-being. These skills include things like personal hygiene, getting dressed, eating meals, and completing household chores.

An occupational therapist works closely with your child to assess their specific challenges and create a highly individualized treatment plan. Through therapeutic interventions, such as teaching self-care routines and providing strategies for safety awareness, an occupational therapist helps your child develop the skills they need to navigate their daily lives successfully.

By focusing on these essential daily living skills, occupational therapy for autism plays a crucial role in empowering your child to lead a more independent and fulfilling life.

Family routines and time management

Occupational therapy for autistic children focuses on developing skills for daily living, including family routines and time management. Occupational therapists use various methods to help children with autism participate fully in their daily lives.

By working closely with children and families, occupational therapists address issues related to self-care and performance in everyday activities, such as managing schedules and completing tasks efficiently.

What does an Occupational Therapist do to support autistic children?

An Occupational Therapist supports autistic children through assessment, individual therapy goals, caregiver education and support, collaboration with the education team, providing home program activities, liaison with other health professionals, and creating changes in their environment.


Assessments play a crucial role in occupational therapy for autistic children. They help identify the specific challenges and barriers your child may be facing in their daily lives.

Occupational therapy assessments focus on sensory processing, motor skills, adaptive skills, handwriting etc. Your occupational therapist may do different assessments depending on what concerns you have.

Overall, assessments are an important first step in helping your child receive the support they need to thrive. By understanding these differences, therapists can develop personalized strategies to help work on these goals.

Individual therapy goals

In occupational therapy for autistic children, the therapist focuses on helping your child reach specific goals. Here are some ways individual therapy goals that an OT may work on:

  • Improve handwriting: The therapist helps your child with their fine motor skills so they can write better.
  • Develop fine motor skills: Activities like cutting, drawing, and grasping objects help improve hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
  • Enhance daily living skills: The therapist teaches your child how to do everyday tasks independently, like dressing, bathing, and eating.
  • Build self-care abilities: Skills such as brushing teeth, tying shoelaces, and managing personal hygiene are taught to foster independence.
  • Promote organization and time management: Your child learns how to plan tasks and manage their time effectively.
  • Increase attention and focus: The therapist uses strategies to help your child improve concentration and stay focused.
  • Enhance sensory processing: Sensory activities help your child process and manage sensory information more effectively.
  • Foster social skills: The therapist works on developing social skills, such as turn-taking, sharing, and making friends.

Caregiver education and support

Occupational therapy programs for autistic children often include caregiver education and support. This means that as a parent, you will have the opportunity to learn strategies and techniques to help your child with autism develop important life skills at home.

The focus of caregiver education and support is on practicing these skills at home and promoting independence for your child. By working closely with occupational therapists, caregivers are supported in developing their strategies when interacting with their autistic child.

Engaging in occupational therapy early on after diagnosis can be highly beneficial as you can start developing skills as soon as possible.

Discussion with education team

An important part of an occupational therapist’s role is to have discussions with the education team involved in your child’s education. This collaboration allows the therapist to gain a better understanding of your child’s needs and how they can best support them in school.

By sharing information and working together, the education team can create a supportive environment that promotes your child’s development and success. Occupational therapists can provide valuable insights, strategies, and recommendations to help address specific challenges that may arise in the school setting.

Through these discussions, everyone involved can work towards a common goal of supporting your child’s overall well-being and educational progress.

Home program activities

Occupational therapists can give you activities to do at home with your child, so they can keep working on their goals even when they’re not in therapy sessions. These activities are designed to help your child develop important skills and become more independent. Here are some examples:

  1. Practice fine motor skills: Encourage your child to use their fingers and hands for activities like picking up small objects or drawing with crayons.
  2. Improve self-care skills: Practice how to brush their teeth, dress themselves, or tie their shoes at home.
  3. Develop daily living skills: Involve your child in household tasks like setting the table or sorting laundry.
  4. Create routines: Establish consistent schedules and routines for meals, homework, and bedtime.

Liaise with other health professionals

Occupational therapists also work closely with other health professionals to provide the best support for autistic children. This collaboration ensures that all aspects of a child’s care are considered and addressed.

By communicating and sharing information, occupational therapists can integrate their therapy goals with those of speech therapists, physical therapists, and behavioral specialists.

This comprehensive approach helps to ensure that autistic children receive a well-rounded treatment plan that meets all of their unique needs.

Change their environment

Occupational therapists can help autistic children by making changes to their environment. This means creating a space that is safe, comfortable, and supportive for the child. For example, an occupational therapist may suggest modifying lighting or adding noise-canceling headphones to reduce sensory overload.

They may also recommend organizing the child’s daily routines and providing visual schedules to promote structure and predictability. By changing the environment in these ways, it can help autistic children better engage with their surroundings and improve their overall well-being.

How Does In-Home Autism Therapy Compare to Occupational Therapy for Autism?

Parents navigating the world of autism therapy may wonder about the differences between in-home autism therapy and occupational therapy for their child. An in-home autism therapy guide can help shed light on this. While occupational therapy addresses overall development and fine motor skills, in-home autism therapy specifically focuses on social interactions, communication, and behavioral challenges within a familiar environment. Both approaches can be valuable, so it’s crucial to consult professionals to determine the best option for each individual child.

What to look for in an Occupational Therapist?

When searching for an Occupational Therapist, it is important to find someone who understands your child’s unique needs, utilizes evidence-based therapy techniques, and builds on your child’s strengths.

Learn more about what to look for in an Occupational Therapist in order to provide the best support for your autistic child.

Builds on your child’s strengths

Occupational therapy for autism is all about focusing on your child’s strengths. Instead of just looking at their challenges or difficulties, occupational therapists work to identify and enhance the things your child is good at.

By building on these strengths, they can help your child develop new skills and overcome obstacles more effectively.

For example, if your child has a talent for art or music, an occupational therapist may incorporate those activities into their therapy sessions. This not only engages your child’s interests but also helps them improve in other areas like fine motor skills or social interaction.

Understand’s family and child’s needs

Occupational therapists who work with autistic children understand the unique needs of both the child and their family. They take the time to listen, observe, and learn about your child’s strengths and challenges.

By understanding your family’s specific situation, an occupational therapist can tailor their interventions to meet your child’s individual needs. This personalized approach ensures that therapy is highly effective in helping your child develop important skills for daily life.

Through collaboration and open communication, the occupational therapist becomes a valuable partner in supporting your child’s growth and success.

Uses evidence-based therapy

It is important for your occupational therapists to consider and use evidence-based approaches where possible. This means that the techniques and strategies used by occupational therapists are backed by scientific research and proven to be effective.

The goal is to enhance your child’s functional abilities, independence, and overall quality of life through these evidence-based interventions.


In conclusion, occupational therapy plays a crucial role in supporting autistic children. Through individualized interventions, occupational therapists help improve motor skills, sensory processing, social interaction, and daily living abilities.

By understanding the unique needs of each child, occupational therapists empower families to navigate challenges and enhance their child’s overall well-being. With the assistance of an experienced occupational therapist, your autistic child can thrive and reach their full potential in all aspects of life.


1. What is pediatric occupational therapy (OT) for autism?

Pediatric OT for autism helps autistic children learn skills to improve their daily life. This may include motor skills, sensory processing, self-care skills, focus and attention.

2. Who provides the occupational therapy services?

Qualified occupational therapists, who have passed the national certification exam and hold a bachelor’s degree offer these necessary therapy services. It is important for you to find a qualified occupational therapist. You can go to the American Occupational Therapy Association or Occupational Therapy Australia website if you are in the United States or Australia.

3. What other therapies would be helpful?

Depending on what your child needs, you may consider speech therapy, physical therapy, psychology and/or behavioral therapy for your child. Speech therapy can help your child develop social and communication skills. Physical therapy can help your child develop motor skills. Psychology can help your child learn about their emotions and thoughts. Behavioral therapy, like aba therapy, can help children change unsafe behaviours.

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