Special Forms of Occupational Therapy
that have helped persons with Autism:
- Art Therapy is defined as a form of psychotherapy that utilizes art materials and the processes involved in making art. Art therapists have been working with children and adults since Autism was first recognized—to help them overcome their isolation by progressing developmentally, finding ways of coping, and gaining a sense of self and relatedness to the world.
Art materials and mark making are explored for their tactile and sensory qualities. Communication is encouraged by using both the representational and the expressive potential of art materials. The person with Autism is helped by the therapist to make some sense of their experiences and to develop confidence and self-esteem. A relationship is encouraged by the framework of a safe place and a regular time, with clear and consistent boundaries.
- Music Therapy can make a difference in the lives of people with health or learning difficulties including Autism, by enhancing the quality of life and the psychological, physical, cognitive and social functioning. Music is nonverbal, not threatening, immediate in time, and naturally motivating and reinforcing. Songs, with lyrics composed like social stories, can be used to learn and practice social skills.
According to the Joint Declaration of the 1982 International Symposium of Music Therapists:
“Music therapy facilitates the creative process of moving towards wholeness in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self in areas such as: independence, freedom to change, adaptability, balance and integration… As the musical elements of rhythm, melody and harmony are elaborated across time, the therapist and client can develop relationships which optimize the quality of life.”
Music therapy can help people with Autism to:
- Improve self-image and body awareness,
- Increase communication skills,
- Increase ability to use energy purposefully,
- Reduce maladaptive (stereotypic, compulsive, self-abusive, disruptive, perseverative, impulsive) behaviours,
- Increase interaction with peers and others,
- Increase independence and self-direction,
- Stimulate creativity and imagination,
- Enhance emotional expression and adjustment,
- Increase attending behaviour,
- Improve fine and gross motor skills,
- Improve auditory perception.
- Animal-Facilitated Therapy may help people with Autism who may think in some of the same ways as animals do. Temple Grandin, the autistic savant who designs livestock-handling equipment on the basis of her unique insights into animal behaviour, says that persons with Autism share with animals their thinking in pictures and by associations. They are also alike in having fear as their main emotion, especially fear of novel or unusual situations. This approach includes also riding, caring for and relating to horses and other animals, but has been most highly developed with dogs trained to support people with Autism.
Service dogs can be trained to support persons with Autism to cope with their sensory and social differences. Jim Sinclair, who has trained a series of service dogs to help him with his own autistic sensory difficulties, explains the ways that dogs can help children and adults with Autism.
- One is by assisting them to modulate their sensory and motor behaviour.
- Second, dogs can help orientate their owners to their environments and may alert caregivers to any problems.
- Third, the social isolation of a person with Autism can be overcome when a service dog attracts positive attention and thus facilitates social interaction with others.
- Fourth, a dog’s natural ability to learn routines can help its owner to learn a sequence of steps in a routine activity, while its ability to recognize and accommodate changes can help a person to be more flexible with unforeseen changes.
- Horticulture as Therapy
The American Horticultural Therapy Association defines its focus as a complementary therapy profession that uses gardening and horticultural activities to improve and maintain physical health, mental health and social adjustment, recreational and leisure options, educational and occupational status. Horticultural therapy can enhance self-esteem, alleviate depression, improve motor skills, provide opportunities in problem solving, encourage work adjustment and social interaction, and teach marketable gardening and business skills. Some or all of these together help individuals to be more included in the everyday community.
People with various ills and disabilities can benefit from horticulture as therapy. Persons with Autism who have movement and sensory differences can be helped by the restorative powers of landscapes and healing gardens–the calm and quiet spaces, the integrity of designs and structures, the soothing greens with touches of brighter colours, the fragrances and textures and the feeling of protection and safety. The physical labour of working in gardens provides great opportunities for sensory integration as well as regular exercise in the open air, the pace can be adjusted to each person’s abilities, and satisfying relationships are possible with friends and other gardeners as well as therapists. Those who have usually been in dependent relationships, receiving services from caregivers all the time, can experience the responsibility and dignity of a vital role in nurturing the plants.
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