Kids with Asperger Syndrome: How occupational therapy can help

Occupational Therapists in Sydney’s northern beaches explain how occupational therapy helps children who have Asperger syndrome.

How occupational therapy helps children with autism and Asperger syndrome

Did you know that the way we refer to Asperger syndrome has changed? In the most recent update of the Diagnostic Manual used by clinicians to diagnose Autism and related disorders, the formal diagnosis of Asperger syndrome was removed.

Understandably this may be confusing for many children and families who previously identified with the Asperger diagnosis; however it is important to remember that the change of a name does not change how a child or adult with Asperger syndrome functions in their daily life.

How does Occupational Therapy help?

Occupational Therapy helps people do what they want to or need to do in their daily life. For adults, this may be returning to work, or being able to participate in their favourite sporting activity. Children have slightly different ‘occupations’ or roles in their daily life. They may include;

  • Toileting
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Grooming

Children also participate in;

  • Learning and schooling
  • Socialising and play
  • Extracurricular activities like sport or music lessons
  • Being a member of a family

When children with autism or Asperger Syndrome are challenged in any or all of the above areas, they may find it difficult to get through a day without a meltdown. You might notice that these difficulties cause your child to become extremely frustrated, anxious, aggressive or withdrawn. This is where Occupational Therapy comes in.

Occupational Therapy and children with Asperger syndrome

An OT’s first goal would be to establish why your child with Aspergers may be experiencing issues in these areas. This is usually done by having a consultation with parents, or the child themselves depending on their age. A good OT will gain as much information as they can about your child’s function at home, at school and in social settings. They may involve teachers or other professionals in the process. A formal assessment may also be completed to establish the baseline to work from.

Every child is unique, but some of the more common causes for functional difficulties that children with Asperger syndrome and autism often have can include:

  • Underlying Sensory Processing difficulties

The way in which your child takes the world in through their senses can hugely impact how they function. It can be hard for a child with autism or Asperger syndrome to stay cool, calm and collected when things are always too bright, too tight or too loud. Sometimes the opposite can occur and children’s senses may not give them enough information to know where they are in space, how hard to push down on their pencils or how to play with their friends without being too rough. Occupational Therapy can help kids to cope with these challenges.

  • Issues with muscle tone, motor coordination, postural and core activation

How your child uses their muscles on a daily basis has a significant impact on their attention, endurance and even toileting. Occupational therapy can help kids with autism and Asperger syndrome to build the strength they need for their muscles to work properly so that they can concentrate and manage daily life.

  • Motor planning and problem solving

In order to successfully complete a task, your child needs to be able to work out which steps are involved and how they will solve any problems that arise.  Occupational therapy helps children with autism and Asperger syndrome to stay calm, think things through and plan tasks so that they can succeed in social and learning situations.

  • Engagement, interaction and socialisation with family members and peers

Your child with Asperger syndrome or autism might find it difficult to interact and play appropriately with others. An OT may aim to facilitate play skills by taking the role of an ‘expert’ player, and working on a child’s ability to effectively socialise. Language might play a significant part here, and your OT may refer you to a Speech Pathologist for further assistance.

  • Academic ability

If your Aspergers child is having difficulties with reading, handwriting or attention, an occupational therapist might be able to determine if this is due to the way your child processes visual information or uses their fine motor skills. During this process, the OT may refer to a Psychologist for a cognitive assessment to gain further information on your child’s academic ability.

What happens then?

Once your child’s OT has identified the main areas of concern, they will get to work! Your child’s occupational therapist will develop an individualised, flexible therapy programme for your child with your priorities and goals in mind. This is constantly evaluated throughout the process and changed as your priorities change. Depending on the situation, your OT may be aiming to;

  • Improve the way your child’s nervous system processes information from their senses
  • Assist your child to understand their emotions and body better, whilst providing you and your child’s teachers with strategies to help them deal with meltdowns
  • Teach skills such as tying shoelaces or putting a shirt on
  • Strengthen your child’s muscles to support better attention and participation
  • Improve your child’s social skills and interaction with peers and family members
  • Improve your child’s independence and organisational skills
  • Support your child through difficult transitions to school, between schools or just to get out of the house
  • Providing strategies to schools and other organisations involved in your child’s life

Throughout the process of assessment, as well as treatment, the OT will continue to observe and build a relationship with your child.  This is to ensure that your child is comfortable and has fun! A good OT will also ensure that you, as a parent, are learning about what your child is experiencing and why, to empower you to be able to continue the therapy process at home.

Hopefully this provides you with a quick summary of how OTs may help your Aspergers child or someone you know!

© 2015 Kids First Children’s Services

Need OT help for your child with Asperger Syndrome or autism?

With years of experience supporting children with Autism and Asperger syndrome, Kids First’s Occupational Therapists have helped hundreds of special needs children.

For more information about  how we can help your child, click here or call our multi-disciplinary children’s health and therapy centre in Brookvale on (02) 9938 5419

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