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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Dew

How Can Occupational Therapy Help a Child with Autism?

How Can Occupational Therapy Help a Child with Autism?

One of the main questions we get as occupational therapists are “so how can occupational therapy help a child with autism?”. I like to reply and say that as occupational therapists we have many skills, a jack of all trades you could say and we are specifically trained in viewing the person as a whole, determining their goals, and allowing them access to achieve no matter what their diagnoses are.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD is a neurodevelopmental, lifelong disability characterized by communication, social, motor, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural challenges. Autism is a spectrum and one child with autism may not display the same challenges as another. There are three levels of autism that help to differentiate between the challenges that the child may have and what type of assistance they may require.

Some examples of difficulties that a child with autism may present with include:

  • Delayed speech and motor skills

  • Decreased meaningful eye contact with others

  • Decreased sharing of interests with others

  • Difficulties interpreting their own and other’s emotions

  • Speech and communication challenges

  • Difficulties making and maintaining friendships

  • Inflexibility in thinking and behaviour

  • Difficulties coping with change and are routine driven

  • Hyperfocus or obsessive interest in certain objects or subjects

  • Sensory processing challenges and ‘stimming’

  • Arranging items in a particular manner

  • Hyperactivity, impulsiveness, or inattentiveness

  • Delayed learning skills

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Developmental changes and challenges with autism are usually made apparent at around 2-3 years of age however some changes may be evident earlier and many functional difficulties may not be evident until the child reaches school age.

Assessment and diagnoses occur by a team of health professionals – a paediatrician, psychologist, and a speech pathologist. Other professionals such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and teachers have valuable input to these assessments as well. These health professionals will complete a range of assessments to determine if the child or adult meets the diagnostic criteria. Once diagnosed the person will also be provided with a level to describe their challenges and recommendations for future support or therapies.


Okay so now you have a brief overview of what autism is, lets now talk about how can occupational therapy help a child with autism. Raising a child with autism can seem like an enormous, overwhelming, and challenging time however occupational therapists are here to help. As occupational therapists, we look through a lens to see the child, their families, friends, and school as a whole.

Firstly, it is most important to determine the child’s and family’s strengths and difficulties which lead to the development of appropriate goals. Whether it be to support the child to be able to dress themselves, bathe themselves, use a knife and fork, tie their shoelaces, write their names, regulate big emotions, provide sensory assistance, apply for a job or advocate their needs to those who may be less informed. Occupational therapy for children with autism involves teaching the child and their team strategies and skills to allow them to be involved in meaningful activities at home, school, and in the community. As the child reaches school age, many more challenges may arise when other team players, such as teachers, peers, and education assistances enter. Occupational therapists can not only support a child with autism at school with academic work, socialization and play, and self-care skills, but will provide valuable information to teachers and education assistants on the child’s needs and recommend best practices to allow great outcomes throughout the day.

A major topic that comes up in the discussion of how can occupational therapy help a child with autism is sensory processing. Children with autism generally display social and behavioural challenges which are clear to others. Sensory processing challenges (hypersensitive or hyposensitive) can be more difficult to not only see but also to support and can be directly linked to these behavioural or social challenges. For more information on sensory processing please see the blog. Occupational therapists are specifically trained in sensory processing and can equip the child, their family, and their school with strategies to manage and support the child’s needs. If a child is dysregulated this can lead to challenges with attention, focus, emotional regulation, and socialization. When their sensory needs are met, these children will be able to learn, participate and socialise with their peers.


A lot of the discussion around occupational therapy and autism is focused on children but what happens when these children grow up and become adults? Occupational therapists can support people with autism across the lifespan; goals and therapy may just look a little different. Instead of making shapes and letters with play-doh, swinging on swings, and learning to write, occupational therapy sessions may focus on job seeking, independent living skills, social engagement, budgeting, and relationships.


Here at iThrive West Leederville, we can support your child with autism in Perth. All of our therapists bring unique talents to the table to support you, your family, and your child. If your child has just recently been diagnosed with autism or you are searching for fun, tailored, and engaging support please do not hesitate to contact us for Perth occupational therapy for children.

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