If you have a child with autism or another neurodevelopmental difference, you may have heard of occupational Therapy (OT), a health profession that focuses on helping people of all ages participate in the activities they find meaningful and purposeful, also known as "occupations." It may be surprising to learn that children have occupations, too. These include playing, learning, and socializing – all vital aspects of your child's development. 

Occupational therapists are highly trained professionals with certifications that qualify them to work with children and adults. They apply a holistic approach, considering children’s physical, mental, emotional, and social development when creating customized treatment plans based on their unique needs and goals. 

A photo of a mom and baby playing with block toys.

The Benefits of Occupational Therapy 

Occupational therapy can benefit children with a variety of neurodevelopmental differences, including autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and more. By working on specific skills, OT can provide many benefits, including:  

  • Improved daily functioning 

  • Enhanced self-care abilities 

  • Support with school-related tasks (writing and organization) 

  • Improved social skills and communication 

  • Increased independence 

  • Better emotional regulation and coping strategies 

  • Enhanced self-esteem and confidence 

What to Expect during an Occupational Therapy Session  

Occupational therapy sessions can take place in a variety of settings, such as in a clinic or through telehealth services. During these sessions, the therapist employs various activities and strategies tailored to your child's needs, including:  

  • Sensory integration therapy to help process and respond to sensory information 

  • Social skills training for better communication and interaction with others 

  • Task analysis and environmental modulation to break down tasks and adapt the environment for success 

  • Assistive technology to support independence and daily functioning 

While each occupational therapy session is tailored to your child’s individual needs, here are a few common activities that occupational therapists at Cortica often use: 

Ninja Obstacle Course: This activity helps your child work on a variety of sensory processing skills, including vestibular processing (balance/movement) and proprioceptive processing (body awareness). This activity also helps improve postural control and motor planning skills. 

About Me Collage: In this activity, your child creates a piece to describe themselves using magazines and paint. This activity helps your child work on their tactile processing skills using different types of materials, It also supports the development of visual-motor integration, fine motor grasp, and manipulative skills. 

Superhero Emotions Chart: In this activity, your child looks at an “emotions chart” and acts out the feelings depicted in the chart by assuming the personas of famous superheroes. This activity helps children describe different emotions, identify challenging situations, and build their own self-regulation toolkit. 

A child playing with a puzzle game.

The Duration of Occupational Therapy 

The length of time a child can benefit from occupational therapy varies depending on factors such as age, neurodevelopmental profile, and other factors, like how frequently OT sessions are occurring. Your child's occupational therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan and provide guidance on the expected duration of therapy. 

Occupational therapy can play a vital role in supporting the development and well-being of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences. By focusing on meaningful activities and providing a tailored, holistic approach, occupational therapists can help your child build essential skills, confidence, and independence for a brighter future.