Everybody has things that they do in everyday life that are important to them. These are called meaningful occupations, because they have a particular importance to the individual. For children, a meaningful occupation is that of a player, learner, friend and son/daughter. In order for a child to engage in these roles, there are many skills and abilities the child needs to develop. For example, for a child to be a friend to someone, he must be able to communicate, empathise and negotiate. The areas that children with Autism often present with difficulties is in communicating, maintaining eye contact, responding to the feelings of others, maintaining appropriate levels of alertness, screening out irrelevant information, and the use of fine motor and gross motor skills. These difficulties when combined can cause the child to struggle maintaining friendships, learn at school, or communicate how he/she feels.
Occupational Therapists work with children with Autism to find out what is meaningful to the child, identify barriers, and facilitate for the child to engage in those meaningful occupations. Occupational Therapists often work on the sensory processing difficulties that children have. This includes tactile defensiveness, where the OT gradually introduces new textures so the child can maintain alertness and not be distracted by particular sensations. Other areas that OT's work is building the child's skills in recognizing the feelings of others, and the skills required for self care tasks such as eating, dressing, playing. Education is important for the family and teachers to ensure they understand the learning, sensory and communication needs of the child.
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