OT Issues with Children with Autism

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“OT” is a term that every parent of a child with autism is probably very familiar with.

What does OT mean?

Occupational Therapy. Occupational therapists use treatments to develop, recover, or maintain the daily living and work skills of their patients with a physical, mental, or developmental condition. The interventions are customized to help improve a person’s ability to perform daily activities and/or reach their goals. They also focus on adapting an environment, modifying a task, and educating families so they can assist the person to reach their goals. They help to build skills that are difficult for autistic children.

What I learned over the years about OT is that it focuses on self-help skills (dressing yourself, bathing yourself, brushing your teeth, etc.). It also focuses on a person’s ability to learn to walk, run, skip, swim – any and all full body movements that typical people develop more naturally.

When does OT start?

OT is typically one of the first interventions assigned to our kids.

After our child’s first evaluation for developmental delays, he was next evaluated by an occupational therapist. We were told our child had “trouble feeling his body in space.” He just couldn’t figure it out. He was not yet walking at that time and he didn’t walk until sixteen months of age.

Honestly, at first, I thought OT would help him learn to walk and that would be that. Turned out much different than I thought.

What did I learn about OT?

Occupational therapy is very valuable to our kid’s development. Because of their delays, their physical developments are not on schedule. OT will help your child’s physical development.

For example, how can a child learn how to put on their own pants if they don’t know how to lift their legs?

OT addresses issues concerning the entire body. It helps a child with balance, body control, sequencing, and general athletic activities.

Any areas OT can assist specifically?

Here’s one…oral issues.

Over the years, I have seen many children on the spectrum chew on their shirts, on a toy, on something they shouldn’t have in their mouths, or even chomp on their fingers.

I don’t know the specific reasons why so many of our kids to need to chew or why they have sometimes severe oral issues. All I do know is our child had one oral issue that took forever to go away.

What is that oral issue?

Teeth grinding.

This specific oral issue seemed to come and go often. Just when we thought he was done with teeth grinding, the issue would resurface.

What can you do about teeth grinding or other oral issues?

Try a “Chewy T.”

A Chewy T is a thick “T-shaped” piece of plastic that is safe for chewing. I bit it once. It doesn’t necessary taste all that great but it has proven to be helpful.

My child’s DTT supervisor suggested to try gummy bears. But not just plain old gummy bears. She advised us to take a bunch of gummy bears and dry them out for a week or two. It hardens the gummy bears.

This means that the child has to work much harder to chew hard gummy bears. They have to really work at it. It becomes an exercise for the mouth.

The result can be a calming down of whatever oral issue they are having and a lessoning of whatever behaviors that may accompanying a child who is dealing with something uncomfortable.

Our child no longer teeth grinds but he still has oral issues. And he still eats gummy bears.

Gummy bears were so effective for our child that we now make sure there’s always a container of them in his school backpack. He is allowed to eat them whenever he needs to.

They are not used as treats. They are used as a strategy to help our child through an issue.

If our child’s classmates question the gummy bears (not that this has happened) then the aide or the teacher explain that my child has an issue and needs to sometimes eat gummy bears.

What else about oral issues or teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding is relatively easy to figure out. You can hear that it’s happening. It’s not a great sound but it does alert you to a problem.

Other issues are harder to pinpoint. Our kids are not great at explaining to us when things are wrong. If they start to chew on things that they shouldn’t be chewing on, then you must assume that they’re struggling with some OT-related oral issues. Try to help them out.

In my next blog, I’ll talk more about Occupational Therapy or OT.

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