Working with autistic students in school can be a rewarding yet challenging job for an occupational therapist. Whether you have experience providing therapy to autistic children or are new to working with this population, there is always something you can learn or improve on, such as the following suggestions.
If you’re new to working with children on the autism spectrum, it’s helpful to make sure you understand your role as a school occupational therapist. As an OT, you’ll work as part of a team, which includes teachers, aides, parents, and other therapists to help children reach their academic potential.
Together with the team, you’ll set goals for students. Common goals may include helping students learn how to self-regulate, engage with peers, delay gratification, and focus on a task. These skills will help students become more successful in school. But they can also play a role in improving a student’s quality of life at home. The skills an autistic student learns can help them become as independent as possible.
There are several things you can do, which may be helpful when working with students with autism. For example, consider ways to minimize distractions. Certain students may be bothered by fluorescent lights or visual distraction. Consider your surroundings when starting your therapy session, and do what you can to create an environment with few distractions.
It’s also important to use things that reinforce the skills you are trying to teach. Using activities and stimuli that a student is interested in makes the therapy session more enjoyable. Plus, it may help keep a child motivated and interested.
Collaboration between parents and teachers is also essential for school occupational therapists working with children on the autism spectrum. Teachers can be an asset and provide helpful tips for working effectively with individual students.
Therapists can also support parents in developing strategies and ideas to reinforce therapy at home. Keep in mind, raising an autistic child presents certain challenges and can be overwhelming at times. The assistance an occupational therapist offers is often valuable.
There are also several additional things you can to help children with autism be successful in occupational therapy, such as the following:
- Make transitions easier: Transitioning from one activity to another can sometimes be difficult for children with autism. There are things you can do to make transitions easier. For instance, consider using a timer to let students see how much time is left until an activity is over.
- Use your full scope of practice: Look at the whole picture, are you addressing non-academic outcomes, such as social participation, that also play a role in a student’s success?
- Make therapy fun: The more fun you make therapy, the better motivated children will be. If children are enjoying an activity, they may be more likely to stay on task. Consider using games, apps, and technology.
- Give clear and simple directions. Keep in mind that a lot of children with autism are visual learners, so utilize pictures or props as learning aids whenever possible. Others are verbal learners, though, so remember that you will need to vary your approach for each child.