Using occupational therapy techniques to help your child with autism live life to the full – An interview with Debra Jacobs and Dion Betts
Many of you who are parents or carers of young people with Autism will be familiar with the important work of Occupational Therapists: helping the special kids in your lives accomplish the daily activities and tasks – big and small – that enable them to live healthy, happy, full lives.
This month, JKP is excited to present the new book, Everyday Activities to Help Your Young Child with Autism Live Life to the Full, which features simple ideas, activities and exercises based on Occupational Therapy techniques to help improve a child’s sense of body awareness, coordination and motor skills, and address key daily tasks such as eating meals and healthy sleep.
Tell us about yourselves. What made you decide to write this book?
Dion: I am a school district superintendent in the U.S., and was formerly a special education teacher and manager of many education programs, including those with students with disabilities. Two of my oldest of five children have Asperger Syndrome. My eldest was diagnosed in the early 1990′s when there was very little written about supporting individuals with this syndrome. Over the years I noted the value that Occupational Therapy methods had on my children and those in my schools. I also noted that many of these methods can be used successfully by parents, carers, and other professionals in helping children to develop. Debra contacted me after a presentation I did with my oldest son regarding issues and solutions for individuals with Asperger Syndrome, as they relate to school, home, and the community.
Debra: I have been an Occupational Therapist for almost 30 years. My passion is to provide individuals with simple things they could do at home to improve the quality of their life. I work in a public school district in the U.S. and have had an increasing number of students with Autism on my case load. When I met Dion, we decided a book could reach more people with these helpful ideas.
What is Occupational Therapy?
Debra: Occupational Therapy (OT) is a healthcare profession. There are many specialty areas within this field, but the overall intention of Occupational Therapy is to use activities that are interesting to our clients to facilitate an increased quality of life and help them to fulfil their roles, successfully and independently as possible. The activities vary according to the client. So, for example, the main role of a child might be student and friend, and their primary “occupation” might be play. When children are not playing due to physical, sensory or other challenges, the occupational therapist can provide directed activities to naturally improve those skills.
Is specialist help or training needed to carry out the activities in the book?
Debra: This book was written so that no special training is needed to carry out the activities. Special attention was given to the use of ordinary everyday items that may be found easily in the community or in most homes. We want this book to be meaningful and useful to as many people as possible.
Can you give some examples of the activities in the section on improving coordination, body awareness and sensory integration, and how they work?
Debra: One of the best activities to improve these characteristics is swinging (page 72). The simple forward and backward movement is both calming and organizing to the nervous system. The method presented in this book moves from almost total support of the child as he swings towards independence. This book is structured in a developmental progression within each activity. The parent or carer can move from providing a great deal of support to decreasing that support as the child increases his skill level and gains independence.
What kind of daily tasks do children with Autism tend to struggle with?
Debra: One of the most common daily tasks that present a challenge is dressing (page 88). One way to make this daily necessity easier is to pay attention to the feel of the clothing the child is being asked to wear. If the fabric is stiff, or has a strong fragrance, these may present a problem for the child. Understanding the experience of the child is one of the first steps to creating a comfortable environment where he can grow. Grooming tasks also frequently present difficulties. Simply using liquid soap rather than bar soap decreases the amount of time needed to bathe.
The activities in the book are designed to form party of daily routines. How can parents prevent their children from feeling like these daily tasks are chores?
Debra: It is important for children to participate in “activities of daily living” which are essential for good health. The more he is involved in the process and has some sense of control, the less he will see it as a chore and the more he will be willing to participate. After some trial and error, parents learn the child’s specific preferences. This may be a certain soap or towel. When approaching these activities, parents need to ask themselves what they are attempting to accomplish. For example, if the goal is for the child to be clean, then does it really matter if bath time is 7PM or 3PM, as long as the time fits with the flow of the family?
Will occupational therapists also find the book useful?
Debra: I have had advanced training in the field of Autism, which is a new and growing area in Occupational Therapy. There are many ideas and activities in this book that I have developed as a result of my experience as a practicing therapist, as well as my studies and research. Occupational therapists can benefit from that wealth of knowledge through this book. They will recognize some of the methods here, and learn new ideas for approaching common challenges. I have used the Occupational Therapy techniques of grading and adapting activities that my fellow therapists will appreciate. Anyone who has any contact with young children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder will find something useful in this book that they can use from the moment it is opened.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.