Are you ready to “light it up blue”? April marks the start of World Autism Month, a time to celebrate, support, accept, and learn. As humans, we each have our strengths and challenges, bringing something unique into the world. However, many autistic individuals today are still misunderstood and continue to face barriers in their everyday lives.
Our place within the healthcare industry has allowed us to see the passion and impact of those directly working with patients in the autism community. These hardworking, allied healthcare professionals are also known as Occupational Therapists (OTs). They play a critical role in improving their day-to-day and offering endless support. In this blog, we explore what autism is and how early intervention paired with Occupational Therapy can make a world of a difference.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is best described as a condition that includes a range of social, communication, and behavioral challenges that can impact one’s neurodevelopment. These challenges impact how individuals interact, learn, and interpret social cues. Most research shows that early intervention can make a positive, life-long impact. ASD symptoms can vary by individual and age. The “core” symptoms of ASD are restrictive/repetitive behaviors and social communication challenges.
Examples of restrictive/repetitive behaviors:
- Repetitive actions (body movements)
- Ritualistic behaviors (OCD)
- Lack of or extreme interest in topics
- Resistance to change
- Sensory aversions
Examples of social communication challenges:
- Speaking (individuals may be nonverbal)
- Tone of voice
- Lack of eye contact
- Expressing and understanding emotions
Please note that ASD can be diagnosed in adulthood, however, symptoms typically appear during the child’s first two years. That’s why early intervention is important for the child’s life-long success.
There also is not “one type” of autism. The term “spectrum” stems from a broad range of symptoms that differ from person to person. This “spectrum” is often dependent on the child’s genetic and environmental factors, which can affect the skills, strengths, and challenges someone with ASD experiences. In addition, ASD can often be associated with other medical issues/diagnoses.
This may include but is not limited to:
- GI disorders
- Mental health challenges
- Chronic sleep issues
- And more
What’s an Occupational Therapist’s Role with an ASD Patient?
Occupational Therapists (OTs) are long-term care professionals that help patients overcome limitations due to injury, illness, or developmental disorders. OTs act as an additional support system for these patients to confide in, support, and work through limitations they may experience. Often, an OT will work with an autistic individual to focus on and refine key cognitive, physical, social, and motor skills including:
- Organization and productivity
- Self-care and hygiene
- Fine and gross motor skills (writing, using utensils, balance, walking, etc.)
- Verbal communication
Scheduling an OT evaluation is a great first step in improving the quality of life for a child diagnosed with autism. This evaluation includes looking for skills that can be improved, setting goals, and creating strategies. This information will also help the parents better understand their child’s needs better how they can help with their success as well.
Occupational Therapists also bring out the strengths of individuals with autism. Doing so can help improve some of the mental health challenges associated with ASD along with boosting their acceptance.
Character strengths of individuals with ASD:
- Attention to detail
- Passionate about hobbies
- Memory skills
- Logical thinking
How Can I Support World Autism Month?
If you’re unfamiliar with ASD, the best way to show your support is by educating yourself on the topic and disorder. Specifically, seek out resources that aid with your understanding of autism and breaking the stigma often associated with the disorder.
If you aren’t familiar, Autism Speaks runs a great program known as the Kindness Campaign. They provide three options (Live with Kindness, Lead with Kindness, and Learn with Kindness), so you can find the right campaign for you. And you can sign up at any time! Other ways to get involved are pledging your support, donating, wearing blue, and more. Another great resource to utilize to get ideas and educate yourself is the American Autism Association.
If you or a loved one have autism, check for local events to show your support and acceptance. Often local organizations will share information about community meetups, charity drives or runs, and sensory-friendly events taking place through April!
One thing for sure is that the autism community brings something unique to the table. While their creativity, passion, and contributions are often overlooked and misunderstood, we are here to celebrate their individuality and offer support. We are grateful to have the experience of working with OTs and getting them where they’re needed most. The relationship between Occupational Therapists and their patients is something truly extraordinary. Ready to find your next OT travel opportunity? View our job board now!