Schools and special education programs make use of many therapies broadly labeled as occupational therapy. Occupational therapy includes speech/language therapy and sensory integration therapy. The goal of occupational therapy is to increase the child’s day-to-day, or occupational, skills. Self-care, academic, social, and verbal skills are all taught through occupational therapy.
Speech/language therapy is an important aspect of occupational therapy. Under clinical conditions, speech/language therapy addresses all aspects of a child’s communication and verbal skills. Ideally, a child with autism should begin speech/language therapy as early in life as possible.
Speech/language therapy concerns itself with more than the physical act of speech. Verbal language and speech comprises only part of human communicating. Speech/language therapy also develops the ability to interpret facial expressions and body language: subtle communication signals that people with autism often miss.
In addition, speech/language therapy develops social skills associated with language. Children with autism learn how to take part in conversations during language therapy, including turn-taking and listening skills.
Children with autism are often non-verbal, a condition that is often mistaken for muteness. Autistic children are physically capable of speech, but the disorder limits their ability to verbally communicate. Initial speech/language therapy for non-verbal children includes the use of augmentative communication devices.
Augmentation communication devices help a child communicate needs without using words. Pointing is augmentative communication in its most simple form: by pointing, the child can indicate a need without speech. Some augmentation communication therapies teach a simplified sign language to children with autism.
Augmentative communication devices also include a form of clinical therapy called Picture Exchange. The child hands an adult a picture of what he or she wants. Augmentative communication devices build the groundwork upon which more complicated speech/language therapy is built.
Sensory integration therapy teaches children with autism how to respond to sensory stimulation. Many autistic children are either overwhelmed or under-stimulated by sensory stimulation, which can result in social withdrawal, tantrums, or self-injuring behavior.
Under clinical conditions, sensory integration therapies attempt to rearrange how the brain interprets stimulation. Children may be gradually exposed to higher levels of sensory stimulation to accustom them to sound, touch, or other sensory input.
Sensory integration does not teach living and social skills as other occupational therapies do. By teaching children with autism how to process sensory stimulation appropriately, sensory integration therapy prepares children for other forms of occupational therapy.
No clear evidence proves or disproves the effectiveness of sensory integration therapy. Like many autism treatments, some children respond better to sensory integration techniques than others.
Play therapy is a form of occupational therapy that uses a play environment to teach social and language skills. In theory, children are likely to play out their needs and wants, a trait that the therapist can channel into skill teaching.
Play, especially imaginative and social play, can be difficult for children with autism. Play therapy can teach children with autism many of the social skills they need for the playground and in later life. Turn-taking, language, and social development can all be explored in the safe clinical setting of play therapy. Real-life situations can be explored through play. As the “playmate” is the therapist, and the “playground” a clinical setting, autistic children can play without their behavior being judged or mocked by other children.
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University of Sunderland. (nd). Secretin as an intervention for autism. Retrieved October 18, 2003, from osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/autism/sec.htm.