Innovative Interventions Help Children With Autism Participate Fully
By Stephanie Yamkovenko
Nearly 1 in 110 children in the U.S. have autism and that number is rising.1 Children and adults with autism have difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, have sensitivity to their senses, and often have unusual reactions to people and situations. Occupational therapy practitioners work with people with autism and provide interventions to help develop appropriate social, play, and learning skills.
Some occupational therapy practitioners are developing innovative ways to engage children with autism in everyday activities. Whether it’s helping a family travel by airplane for the first time or modifying sensory environments so children can participate in typical childhood activities, the following examples show that there are many ways for occupational therapy practitioners to help people with autism live life to its fullest.
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Occupational Therapy Helps Children With Autism: Go to the movies
Going to the movie theater is an activity that many children enjoy. However, the loud noises, dark lighting, and having to sit still for so long make it a challenge for children with autism. Several occupational therapy practitioners, including AOTA member Janet O’Flynn, have partnered with local movie theaters to create a movie screening that takes into account sensory issues. The theater plays the film at a lower volume and keeps the lights a little brighter, and the audience understands other children’s noises, squirming, and tantrums. Read more about O’Flynn here.
Travel by Airplane
For many families, airplane travel is the preferred method of transportation to visit family and friends, but for children with autism this is a highly unusual and difficult process. Children with autism often have difficulties with new experiences, so AOTA member Roger Ideishi, JD, OT/L, worked with Philadelphia International Airport to create a “mock” flight that allows families to practice flying. Children with autism can get used to the sights and sounds of a real flight from security screening to in-flight beverages (while still on the ground). Read more in the Careers Column in OT Practice here.
Tell a Joke and Laugh
Some parents with children with autism have never heard their child laugh because many do not understand humor and what makes situations or jokes funny. AOTA member Rondalyn Whitney, PhD, MOT, OT/L, found that when children with autism learned the “rules” of humor they were successful in understanding it. Whitney held a camp for children with autism where campers learned how to tell a joke, why different types of humor are funny and in what context, and other guidelines. After attending the camp the children with autism were able to return to school and tell jokes with their classmates. Read more here.
With modifications and planning, children with autism and their families can participate and perform in everyday life situations and activities. “Occupational therapy is an essential part of the lives of individuals with autism,” said Brenda Smith Myles, PhD, in her keynote address at AOTA’s 2010 Specialty Conference Autism.
For all AOTA resources on autism, visit the autism micro site.
Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s staff writer.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders—Autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, United States, 2006. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 58, SS-10.