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Occupational Therapy Jobs with Autistic Children

written by: Victoria Trix • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/21/2010

Are you considering occupational therapy as a job with autistic children? Here we will look at the basic requirements, approach and challenges of the job.

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    The nature of the disorder known as autism requires a thorough understanding of this specific class of dysfunction that affects behavior as well as the ability to reason and to recognize distinctions. Autism is a “spectrum disorder”, which means that the causes and symptoms will vary from child to child. The goal of occupational therapy for autistic children is to help the affected individual obtain the necessary skills that will enable them to cope with the activities of daily living.

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    What is Autism?

    Autism, also referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurological problem classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). It affects a child’s ability to recognize and respond appropriately to stimuli, as in not knowing how to use an object such as an eating utensil or a pencil. This inability to respond to a stimulus correctly can affect a child’s ability to handle tasks in everyday life that will enable them to function normally and to cope with functional problems that may arise.

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    Therapeutic Challenges with Autistic Children

    Therapy with autistic children will focus on their inability to respond to stimuli, which will have an effect on a child’s development of gross motor skills, as in general muscle movement. This may include walking or running, riding a bicycle, or playing games that require physical responses, such as kickball or catching a softball. Having affected gross motor skills will likely affect the fine motor skills, or movements that require more specific muscle control, such as writing, using an eating utensil, or tooth-brushing.

     

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    Basic Approaches of Occupational Therapy with Autism

    An occupational therapist will work on sensory responses and control. This may include involving the child in a variety of physical activities to familiarize them with particular functions and help them obtain the necessary motor skills. This may include interacting with other children to accustom the autistic child to relating to others so they may develop interpersonal skills. Getting the child accustomed to transitions from one social setting to another may also be part of occupational therapy with autistic children.

     

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    Basic Requirements for Occupational Therapy with Autism

    The requirements for an occupational therapist who works with autistic children will include a basic educational and clinical background. An occupational therapist will have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in studies related to human behavior and neurological and physiological development disorders. A supervised clinical internship will be required, as well as successful completion of a national certification examination.

     

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    Symptoms in Children with Autism

    A child’s ability to interact with objects and other people may be signs of the onset of autism, especially in children under 3 years of age. A child who does not seem to want interpersonal contact or who cannot seem to communicate may have symptoms of autism. Repeated speech patterns or physical movements can also be signs of autism in children, such as saying the same phrase over and over again, or repetitious hand or head and facial movements.