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Why is Occupational Therapy Used for Treating Autism?

Read time: 5 minutes

Many people wonder why occupational therapy is used for treating autism. Read this blog to find out!

What are your occupations?

Every day, you do meaningful activities. You play games, garden, make meals and paint. They are an integral parts of our lives. Above all they allow us to access the best parts of our life and make it meaningful for us. OT help with your professional and personal concerns if you are unable to perform daily tasks due to injury, illness, or disability.

  • Offer solutions to problems that arise from social and environmental factors.
  • Enhanced participation in communities and life.
  • Ultimately, help us live the life that we desire.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the most prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder. It affects about 500,000 people around the world. Autism diagnosis most often occurs in childhood. Moreover, Autism Speaks Canada predicts that 1 in 42 boys and 1 in of 189 girls will be autistic.

ASD can impact every area of a person’s life and each case is unique. Occupation performance refers to the ability to do daily activities, such as self-care and daily living. It also includes education, leisure and recreation for children. As well as their ability to communicate and socially engage. 

Why is Occupational Therapy Used for Treating Autism Side by Side ABA Therapy

What are the goals of occupational therapy?

OT’s main goal is to help clients achieve their highest level of independence. In other words, it is important to consider their personal goals, motivations and interests.

Above all OTs should:

  • Encourage participation in daily life.
  • Develop intervention plans and assess the abilities of the individual.
  • Assist children in achieving their developmental goals.
  • Encourage learning through their understanding of sensorimotor processing.
  • Fine/gross motor skills development and task analysis.
  • Recommend changes or accommodations to activities and environments.
  • Teach vocational skills and explore independent living options.
  • Assist clients in achieving independence.
  • Support clients and families with education, consultation, and advocacy.
  • Support clients in building intimate relationships through education about relationships and sexuality.
  • Participate in the inter-professional team (speech pathologists, behaviour analysts, physicians, early interventionists, social workers and educators).

How is occupational therapy used in treating autism?

Occupational therapists use their skills to improve sensory processing, emotional regulation and fine/gross motor development. Occupational therapy is a holistic approach that offers a unique perspective. They hold advanced degrees and have received a lot of training in the field. Moreover, they are highly skilled in doing assessments and in providing intervention. Occupational therapy interventions require input from family, educators, and caregivers. People transition from one setting into another with the help of occupational therapists. In other words, transitions include from home to daycare, from daycare to school, and from school to society. Occupational therapists provide support to families through education and consultation.

Why is Occupational Therapy Used for Treating Autism Side by Side ABA Therapy

Where can occupational therapists work?

Occupational therapists can be found working alongside health care professionals in many settings. That is to say these can include schools, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and community clinics. OTs also work in support services, family homes and on client health teams. Other organizations may be involved in the occupational therapy’s work, such as government policy-makers, community agencies, or care professionals.

Occupational Therapy at Side by Side

In summary, OTs play an important role on many of our client teams. Occupational Therapists can do direct treatment or consult to our ABA Therapy teams. If you’d like to discuss how we can use occupational therapy in your child’s program call Side by Side Therapy today.

What kind of therapy does a child with autism need?

Many parents of children recently diagnosed with autism ask themselves “What kind of therapy does a child with autism need?” This blog will cover therapy options and some guidelines for what to avoid when picking a therapy model and provider.

What kind of therapy does a child with autism need?

There are many evidence based therapies for autistic children. Applied Behaviour Analysis, Speech-Language Pathology and Occupational Therapy are 3 options. Each child is different and will need an individualized therapy program. In any case, therapy should begin with an assessment that is updated regularly. Each kind of therapy will have it’s own way of setting goals but the goals should be specific to the child. The type of therapy that a child needs will likely change as they grow and learn.

What are the different therapies?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)

ABA is a scientific discipline that focuses on analysis and evaluation of social and environmental shifts to produce meaningful changes in a person’s life. One of the main ideas behind ABA is the identification of functional relationships. In other words, functional relationships are the correlation between the person’s environment and their behaviour.

ABA can be used to both teach new skills and to reduce challenging behaviours. In fact, it is very important to do both of these things when implementing ABA. When a behaviour is reduced, it needs to be replaced with an alternative that meets the same need or serves the same function. You can read more about the functions of behaviour in this post.

ABA programs can be Comprehensive (more than 20 hours per week) or Focused (between 5 and 15 hours per week). The intensity of your child’s ABA program will depend on a number of factors (age, needs, challenging behaviours, other programs or therapies etc.).

ABA can be a bit like your family doctor. ABA has lots of strategies and techniques to help with most areas of need (behaviour, communication, social skills, motor skills etc), but there are times when a specialist is required – like a speech-language pathologist or an occupational therapist.

Child playing with wooden toys. What kinds of therapy does a child with autism need?

Speech-Language Pathology (SLP)

Speech therapy or SLP focuses on a number of areas: communication, language, pragmatics (or social skills) and feeding/swallowing. Speech therapy is a very popular therapy for autism. Your child’s SLP will do an assessment to determine where your child is in terms of skills and what needs to be targeted and taught. Sometimes the SLP will do a standardized assessment (where the child’s performance is measured against other same aged peers). Other times the assessment is informal. Sessions will usually take place for an hour or two each week.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

OT can be an incredibly effective therapy for autism. The OT will look at a number of domains (or areas) when they’re assessing the child. Some examples are: motor skills, sensory integration skills, self-help/adaptive skills, even academics. OT sessions can happen anywhere: at home, at a clinic, in school even at the park or grocery store. It’s most important that the OT is able to see the child in their natural environments in order to give the best suggestions and be the most effective. Similar to Speech, OT sessions are usually an hour or two per week.

What is an interdisciplinary team in autism therapy?

Interdisciplinary teams happen when clinicians from different disciplines work together to achieve the child’s goals. For example, the OT would give strategies and set goals around a child’s sensory needs while the SLP guides the child’s language program. Both the sensory goals and the communication goals will be carried out by the ABA team, as well! Interdisciplinary teams are the best kind of therapy for a child with autism.

There are lots of decisions to be made when you’re picking a therapy for your autistic child. Let Side by Side Therapy help you understand your options and what services are available.

What Can An OT Do For My Autistic Child?

Is your child autistic? Did their doctor recommend occupational therapy? Then you’re in the right place. Read on to find out what can an OT do for an autistic child.

What is occupational therapy?

What can an OT do for my autistic child?

Occupational therapists help autistic people using evidence informed strategies. OTs can also help to change or modify the environment to help the autistic person be as successful as possible. They will do an assessment that determine skills needing improvement and what changes should be made in the environment. Increasing independence is at the heart of most OT interventions. OTs take these areas into account when designing an intervention: physical, social, emotional, sensory, vocational and cognitive.

Source: National Autistic Society

What does an OT do?

An OT will assess the child’s skills in some or more of the following domains: fine and gross motor, activities of daily living, sensory functioning, social skills. OTs use standardized assessments. The therapist will develop an individualized treatment plan for the child. Occupational therapy sessions can take place in almost any setting (daycare, school, home, clinic or hospital). Often, OT sessions are an hour long. Some goals can being targeted in group therapy (eg.: social skills) while some need individual attention (eg.: toileting).

Most kids love OT. That is to say, OT sessions are fun and are driven by the child’s interests. In other words, knowing the child’s strengths, needs and interests is a key element in good therapy.

Child during an OT session for autistic child.

What should you consider before beginning OT?

What questions should you ask before beginning OT for your autistic child?

  1. Who will be working directly with my child?
  2. How many years they been working as a OT?
  3. Where will the services take place?
  4. How often will therapy occur?
  5. What are the goals of therapy for my child?
  6. What real-life skills will my child learn?
  7. How do you help with sensory issues?
  8. How is progress measured?

The therapist should be able to answer these questions easily. Above all, you need to feel comfortable with their style and perspective.

Source: Autism Speaks

How do you pay for OT services?

Is OT covered by insurance?

Some extended health plans have occupational therapy coverage. However, each plan is different and will have specific rules and qualifiers. You should ask your plan administrator to be sure. Also, make sure to ask when your benefit year renews to make the most of the benefits!

Does OHIP pay for OT?

The Ontario Health Insurance Plan covers OT services when it is provided through:

  • Hospitals and rehabilitation centres,
  • Family Health Teams,
  • Assertive Community Treatment Teams,
  • Community Health Centres,
  • Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) that provide access to OT for eligible clients in their homes, schools, or long-term care facilities.

There are service limits with each of these programs. More information can be gathered from the service coordinator of the program or with the OT providing your treatment.

Source: Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists

Kids during an OT session for autistic children, playing on skateboards.

What is sensory processing?

How does an OT help with sensory processing?

Sensory processing is our body’s ability to understand the information it’s getting from the environment. Teaching sensory processing is one of the things an OT can do for an autistic child. Autistic people are often over or under sensitive to their environments. For instance, they might be very sensitive to loud noises or not appear to be hurt easily. An OT will help your child identify which strategies will help them get their sensory system working in top shape. Subsequently, the OT will teach your child to identify when to use these strategies and to do them!

Source: Harkla

What is a sensory diet?

A sensory diet is a specific routine of activities that helps regulate the child’s sensory systems. Children will run through the activities at predetermined times to help them prepare for the coming activities.

Sensory diets:

  • Restructure a student’s nervous system over time so that he is better able to tolerate sensations and situations he finds challenging/distracting
  • Regulate their alertness and increase attention span
  • Limit sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviours
  • Handle transitions with less stress.

Source: National Autistic Society

In conclusion, there are myriad ways that an OT can help an autistic child. At Side by Side Therapy, we work as an interdisciplinary team to combine our skillsets to achieve the maximum potential for each child. Our ABA Therapy teams work closely with the SLPs and OTs to create well balanced programs that propel the child towards their goals.

Top 5 Picky Eating Strategies

Autistic children are often picky eaters. There are many reasons that this happens. Once you’ve figured out the reason your child is picky you can use these picky eating strategies to help them overcome their pickiness. Recent research has shown that 70% of autistic children have unusual eating behaviours.

Reasons for picky eating

Many children struggle with texture, flavours and a need for sameness that can make eating a variety of foods tricky. Muscle weakness in the mouth or difficulty with sensory experiences can also impact the foods that the child will tolerate.

Young child refusing to eat spaghetti because she's a picky eater.

Try these top 5 picky eating strategies:

1. Toleration

Allow your child to tolerate the food being around before expecting them to eat it. Try putting just a single grape on their plate or a piece of cheese without any expectation that they will eat it. The goal is to have them tolerate it.

2. Shaping

Once your child is able to tolerate the new food, you want to gradually shape the way they’re engaging with it. For example, they might start by simply touching the food, then smelling it, then bringing it to their lips, then licking, then chewing and lastly swallowing.

3. Give choices

This is one of the best picky eating strategies! Giving your child choice and control will help them feel empowered to overcome their picky eater habits. Examples of choices you could give include: how many bites of the target food the child will have, how the target food will be prepared or who will feed the bites (the child or the adult).

4. Use Positive Reinforcement

When it comes to picky eating, it’s REALLY IMPORTANT to use positive reinforcement to encourage your child. Remember it’s not bribery if you state the expectation first and the outcome second. Think “Have three bites then we’ll watch YouTube” vs “Wanna watch YouTube? Have three bites!”

5. Don’t get into a power struggle

Eating is one of the only things your child has actual control over. There is no safe way to force your child to eat, so if they’re not willing to, it’s not going to happen. By keeping the entire experience positive and not letting it fall into a power struggle you’re helping your child to feel empowered and in control.

Who can help?

Like most challenges, an interdisciplinary approach is often the most effective. Picky eating can be addressed by ABA, Speech or Occupational Therapy. Also, before you begin trying to address your child’s picky eating, make sure to consult your child’s physician to rule out anything medical that might be going on.

Is There a Cure for Autism? Part 1

“Is there a cure for Autism?” 

“How long will my child have to be in therapy?” 

“How long until they’re like other kids their age?” 

Each week I speak with 10 or so parents, most of who have newly diagnosed autistic children. 

These are questions that many parents ask. It’s so difficult to ask these questions and it’s equally difficult to answer them. I am always honest when I answer.  I tell them that I believe that each child can make change and learn new skills but that there is no cure for autism. It’s not for me to say how ‘normal’ they will become. I try to stress to these parents that their child has so much potential and with the right mix of learning opportunities they will grow into incredible little humans. 

Mom holding son while searching the internet for a cure for autism.

Taking the expectation of being ‘normal’ off the table is a relief for some parents. Others aren’t ready to hear my message. They’re still grieving the loss of the child they thought they’d have. One of the most difficult things for people to handle is uncertainty. Humans are hardwired to have a plan or at least a destination. We dream of the future. When your child is diagnosed with a special need your journey takes a turn. There is a wonderful poem that conveys this message so beautifully. It’s called ‘Welcome to Holland’ and it was written by Emily Perl Kingsley in 1987. 

(I need to say that no one poem or piece of writing will perfectly sum up the experience of the entire special needs parenting population.  This poem should be taken for what it is, one woman’s perspective, at one point in her life. Some people will identify with it and others will not.) 

What Should Parents Do?

There are a number of evidence based treatments for autism. Research the options that are available in your area and decide which aligns with your beliefs and goals. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) has the most research backing it’s effectiveness for autistic children. There is also Speech Therapy that can be essential for autistic kids as well as Occupational Therapy. There is a lot of overlap between the disciplines. Sometimes your child’s needs can be addressed by the ABA team alone, but sometimes the expertise of a specialist is required. Any therapy team you work with should be open to collaboration with other disciplines that provide evidence based therapy. 

Alternative Cures For Autism

As with any issue that affects a group of people, there will always be bad actors who try to dupe vulnerable people. I always caution my clients against spending resources on non evidence based interventions.  Resources can be money, time and energy.  Very few people have unlimited resources. When you devote resources to one treatment, automatically you’re taking resources away from the others. You want to ensure that you’re putting your resources where you’ll get the most benefit. Some examples of non evidence based interventions are: biomedical interventions (chelation therapy, autism diets, supplements) or other treatments like swimming with dolphins or hyperbaric oxygen chambers.  While these treatments may have many glowing reviews look for peer-reviewed, double blind controlled studies to use as your base of information when determining if something is evidence based. 

Here is a list of evidence based interventions for you to consider with your child. 

Come back next week as I discuss if we should even be trying to cure autism. 

How to choose an ABA Provider

This post will describe the elements you need to consider when you choose an ABA provider for your child.

As soon as you get an Autism diagnosis the first place you turn is likely Google. When you’re reading you find again and again that Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is the most recommended therapy. If you live in a bigger city, you’ve got many options to choose from – but how do you choose an ABA provider?

Here are 5 things to consider when you choose an ABA provider:

Home or centre based?

There are many benefits to both home and centre based programs. What you need to decide is: which will benefit your child and be most manageable in your life?

In home based programs, the clinicians come to your house for each therapy appointment. Generally, a responsible adult has to be home with the child and clinician during sessions. You can see what the clinician is doing and how they’re teaching your child. You can participate in therapy sessions. Depending on the age and goals of the child, the clinicians might need a desk or table that’s free from distractions. Home based programs typically focus on using the toys and materials you have in your home to do the programming. This is a great strategy because it will allow you to continue the interventions when the therapist leaves.

Clinic based programs allow you to drop your child off and get things done while they’re in therapy. Your child will have access to a lot of novel toys and games. There will likely be peers around for social skills programming and they will hopefully learn to be a bit independent as they’re away from you and the ‘safety’ of home. Clinic based therapy sessions can often mimic school more closely than home based sessions can.

Black father and son laying on a bed reading about how to choose an ABA provider.
Black father laying on bed with son searching on a laptop.

Credentials and Supervision

In Ontario, behaviour analysis is not a regulated profession. The title ‘Behaviour Analyst’ is not protected like psychologist or social worker. Anyone can say they’re a behaviour analyst. That’s a terrifying thought.

There is a certification board that credentials Behaviour Analysts. It’s called the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. To become a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) the candidate must have completed an approved graduate degree, completed 2000 hours of supervised work and passed a board exam. To utilize provincial funding for evidence based behavioural services (aka: ABA!) the program must be overseen by a BCBA.

It is vital when you choose an ABA provider that there is a BCBA on the team who will ACTUALLY SPEND TIME WITH YOUR CHILD. It is not enough to have a BCBA who simply signs off on the reports. They should spend a minimum of 2 hours each month supervising and monitoring your child’s progress. The BCBA also trains the front line staff on the interventions.

Some agencies employ Senior Therapists to take over some of the supervision of the BCBA. Often, senior therapists are in training to become BCBAs. This is totally okay, as long as the BCBA remains involved. At Side by Side Therapy, we do 10% supervision (for every 10 hours of ABA a client has they will have 1 hour of supervision). That’s a reasonable standard to look for when you choose an ABA provider.

Reviews and Recommendations

Rely on word of mouth. Other families have walked your path and can often be reliable sources of information when you choose an ABA provider. Most businesses have Google reviews that you can read. Also, there are many support groups on Facebook or other social media platforms that can provide recommendations for ABA providers in your area. You can also ask for references when you’ve narrowed down your search to a few providers.

Parent or caregiver involvement

Instructing parents not to participate in therapy is a huge red flag. There is no reason that you should not be in the room or able to watch what’s happening (whether in a home or centre based program).

Parent training is vital to a child’s success. You must learn the strategies and techniques that will be most effective for your child. One of the best ways to learn is called Behavioural Skills Training (BST). There are 4 steps in BST: instruction, modelling, rehearsal and feedback. You need to practice the skills with the clinician there to provide feedback in order to learn them.

You should also have an equal voice in the direction of the programming and how the programs are chosen. Each ABA program is ABA is individualized to each client so it is important that your family’s goals and values are taken into account when creating the programming. The goal development should be guided by two things: the curriculum assessment and your input.

Interdisciplinary Team

While ABA is the most evidence based intervention for Autism, there is definitely an important role for the other disciplines to play in your child’s autism therapy. Speech-Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, Recreation Therapy and respite all bring valuable insights and skills to the team.

Bringing an excellent team together with clinicians from multiple agencies is possible, but it is WAY easier to have everything under one roof. Choosing an ABA provider that is open to collaboration with other disciplines is super important.

Questions to ask when choosing an ABA provider

  • What does a typical session look like?
  • How do you measure success?
  • How frequently are revisions made to the programming?
  • Who does parent training? How often is it done?
  • What is your philosophy on punishment?
  • What training do the instructor therapists have?
  • How many years have you been a BCBA?

Call or email Side by Side Therapy today to schedule a no charge/no obligation consultation to learn about our ABA program or for advice on how to choose an ABA provider.

Red Flags for Autism: 8 Behaviours to look for

Each child develops at their own pace. However, there are general guidelines, called milestones, that are used in monitoring if your child is progressing. When a child doesn’t meet their milestones, it can be a red flag for autism. Red flags don’t necessarily mean your child will be diagnosed, but they are considered when determining if further assessment is needed.

Red flags for autism are divided into 3 categories. These categories align with the 3 diagnostic domains for autism: language, social skills and repetitive and stereotypic behaviours.

8 Red Flags for Autism

Language

No words by 18 months or no two-word combinations by 24 months

Most children will have 10 words by the time they’re 18 months old. These words might not be complete but will be easy to understand and consistent. By 24 months many children are using two-word combinations. These combinations are often a name + item to make a request (e.g.: “Julia Milk”, “Daddy bed” etc.)

No pointing or use of gestures

Pointing is a very important skill. It allows a child to share their thoughts and interests in a non-verbal way. Most children point with their whole hand at first (reaching) but will eventually begin to extend their index finger to point. Likewise, gestures allow us to understand a child’s meaning without spoken language.

Inconsistent responding to name

By about a year old, your child should be consistently looking when you call their name. Responding to their name demonstrates that the child is able to divide their attention from what they’re doing when they hear a specific auditory cue.

Toddler boy covering his eyes. Lack of eye contact is a red flag for autism.

Loss of previously mastered language skills

One of the biggest red flags for autism is a regression in language skills. Regression is when a child has mastered a skill but is then unable to demonstrate the same skill. Many parents of children with autism describe their child’s language development as typical until around 2 years of age, when the child lost the words, comprehension, pointing and gestures they were using.

Social Skills

Inconsistent eye contact

Many children with autism do not make eye contact naturally. In fact, adults with autism have said that eye contact can be painful or anxiety provoking. This goes beyond shyness.

Lack of joint attention

One of the red flags for autism is the inability to show joint attention. Joint attention happens when a child and their communication partner use gaze and gestures to divide their attention between a person and an interesting object or event.

Stereotypic or Repetitive Behaviours

Unusual or repetitive behaviours with their hands or other body parts

One of the red flags for autism is moving hands and the body in general in unusual ways. Some children will wave their fingers near their eyes, flap their hands, rock their body or walk on their toes.

Preoccupation or unusual interests

Another red flag for autism is intense preoccupation with non-toy items. Some children become very attached to random objects (a spoon, a block, a piece of clothing) and will become upset if it is removed.

What to do if you notice red flags for autism in your child

Bring them up with your paediatrician! Getting early intervention is wise because even if your child does not end up with a diagnosis, the early intervention will teach a skill that was lacking. Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Applied Behaviour Analysis can all be helpful.

Conclusion

While none of these red flags for autism are enough to get a diagnosis on their own, it is important to notice them. When a child’s displaying a combination or stops making gains make an appointment with your paediatrician for advice and potential referrals.

The 5 Benefits of Outdoor Play

Read time: 2 minutes

With screens being stared at for hours a day by children, the benefits of outdoor play for children is being overlooked. Primary school should be a place where children can enhance the health of their minds, bodies, and emotions. Thankfully, an easy way to do this is to encourage outdoor play. There are a few practical ways to do so, such as ensuring playground design is engaging for children. We will focus on the benefits of playing outdoors, so you can see just how critical it is for their health and well-being.

Greater Physical Health

When children are running around, jumping, crawling, and handling physical objects, they are using and developing their motor skills. These are essential functions that can be greatly improved with outdoor play. Children walking a trail can get some aerobic exercise while enjoying the outdoors. When playground design is considered in terms of maximizing movement, children will burn more calories, which leads to strengthening their muscles and preventing childhood obesity. Also, they will get much-needed vitamin D, even if it’s a cloudy day.

Improves Behaviour and Social Skills

School is a place where children spend a large portion of their day. They interact with other children throughout the day, which helps develop their social skills. However, outdoor play helps shape their ability to communicate, cooperate, and organize effectively. Even at home, children can play with their siblings and friends outside in the yard, while inventing new games to play. All the practice taking turns, sharing, and developing lead to the cultivation of critical behavioural skills and is one of the benefits of outdoor play.

Increase Sensory Skills

Studies have found that children who play outside more have better long-range vision than those who are primarily indoors. The younger a child is, the more they learn through their senses. When a toddler walks down a trail, they will light up with joy when they spot a new animal or smell aromatic flowers. Jumping feet first into puddles is another favourite pastime of theirs. All of these expand, improve, and enhance their sensory skills. Your child may benefit from the input of an Occupational Therapist in the development of their sensory skills. The development of a child’s perceptual abilities is key to having excellent sensory skills.

Increase Attention Span

When children play outdoors, they become more curious about the world around them. They explore and roam according to where they want to go. These self-directed explorations lead to them having the ability to stay focused on a task for longer. Children who play outdoors in a self-directed way have more initiative to do things on their own. They are also more eager to participate in activities they have never done before. Studies have found that children who have had ADHD had seen a reduction in their symptoms after spending more time playing outdoors, in playgrounds, backyards, and other outdoor spaces.

Greater Happiness

All that running, jumping, and exploring generates endorphins, which uplift the moods of children. When there is an intricate playground design, it challenges children to exert more physical effort. This, combined with being exposed to light outdoors, improves the mood of children. Playing outdoors can be a wellspring of happiness for them.

Check out this list of parks in the GTA!

In Conclusion

These are some of the top benefits of outdoor play for children. As you can see, there are several reasons children should be encouraged to play outside. Their physical, mental, and emotional well-being will increase, while developing essential skills that will help them navigate the world they grow up in.

9 Useful Occupational Therapy in Toronto Strategies

Using strategies from occupational therapy in Toronto will be helpful to autistic people who often have sensory processing issues. They might exhibit poor impulse control, be unable to handle self-care tasks or show reduced awareness of social cues.  

A diagnosis of autism should always guide the parent toward a multidisciplinary approach in terms of intervention  and occupational therapy (OT) should definitely be on the team! Keep reading and discover some fun and useful the activities that grew out of OT.

Child writing using a pencil grip in an occupational therapy in Toronto session.

Try these Occupational Therapy in Toronto activities:

#1 Exercises for fine motor skills

The purpose of these exercises is to strengthen the tiny muscles of the fingers and hands in general. The more often they are performed, the better the fine motor skills are going to be. 

For instance, a great occupational therapy activity would be to take an ice cube tray and put cotton balls in each ice cube opening. Your child can pick up the cotton balls with his/her fingers, tweezers or tongs. 

#2 Exercises for gross motor skills 

As a general rule, when addressing gross motor skills try to find activities that require the child to use his/her whole body. The goal is to focus on the larger muscle groups (arms, legs, core).  Building coordination, flexibility and stamina in these muscle groups is really important. 

Here is a simple exercise you can try. Take balls of different sizes, colors and textures, and place them around a room. Ask the child to retrieve each ball, using different types of movement: crawling, skipping, jumping and climbing. 

#3 Heavy work 

Another hidden gem from the OT world is heavy work. Activities that require the usage of major muscle groups can help children develop their gross motor skills even further. Heavy work activities have been shown to be calming for many children. They help the child understand and coordinate their body. You can ask the child to push a heavy object, pull on a rope or carry various items from one point to the other. 

Boy taking out the trash after an Occupational Therapy in Toronto session



One can push a laundry basket or a wheelbarrow filled with toys, carry a box loaded with toy cars or even engage in outdoor activities, such as digging, shoveling or raking. 

#4 Sensory bins

The sensory bin remains one of the easiest and fun activities to try. Many autistic children are sensitive to certain textures so this exercise is a great way to address this issue. You provide opportunities for your child to gradually become desensitized to different textures. 

Child's hand playing in multicoloured rice during an occupational therapy in Toronto session

You can fill several different containers with objects of various textures, including rice, beans, corn, cotton balls, and beads, asking him/her to explore each. Be creative! There are endless possibilities of what you can put into a sensory bin. 

#5 Homemade play dough 

Making homemade playdough isn’t only an occupational therapy activity! This activity serves not only as a teaching opportunity but it also offers a way to acquire valuable skills. This is an easy recipe to try. Once you’ve made the dough, you can use cookie cutters, kids knives or other toys to cut and make shapes. 

A simple activity, it will help with sensory exploration, improvement of visual skills and direction following. Some children like adding different scents to the dough (vanilla, mint, lemon etc.).  

#6 Painting with ice cubes

Take an ice cube tray and fill it with water and watercolor paint. Place in the freezer for a few hours. Give the frozen cubes to the child to use to paint. You can paint on regular paper or try coffee filters for an added sensory element. 

#7 Bring nature and sorting together 

Sorting and nature exploration represent two activities that many children enjoy and you can easily combine them. Just go outside and gather rocks, flowers, leaves and twigs, then ask the child to sort what you have gathered. 

The game of sorting nature can also facilitate the development of problem-solving skills, expand language as well as logical thinking. 

#8 Deep pressure activities

Many OTs will advocate for the use of deep pressure to calm children (and adults too!) Deep pressure can be used in children who have frequent meltdowns or tantrums, having a calming effect and offering much-needed tactile input. In all children, it is vital to ensure that you have consent before touching them. In children who are sensitive to touch, however, it must be performed gradually. 

You can take a blanket and roll up the child, burrito-style, or ask him/her to lie on the floor, placing pillows on his/her body. A large ball can be used to go over the child’s body, avoiding the head area. Bear hugs and squishes are other examples! 

#9 Crossing the midline

Crossing the midline is an important part of motor development, and something some autistic children struggle with. Crossing midline means being able to reach across the body (from left to right and right to left). Imagine that your body is divided down the middle with an imaginary line.  Using your right hand to scratch your left thigh is an example of crossing midline.  

Young Boy stretching his arm across his body during an occupational therapy in Toronto session.



Playing clapping games with a partner or a game of Simon says are great ways to practice crossing midline. 

These are some of the activities recommended for children diagnosed with autism. If you are looking for occupational therapy in Toronto, we are more than pleased to help you out. Call us for a free consultation and we will schedule an appointment as soon as possible. 

Top 7 Effective Speech Therapy in Toronto Strategies to Try With Your Children

Read time: 5 minutes

Parents are often the first ones to notice that their child isn’t developing, especially in terms of communication. The lack of infant babble, the absence of eye contact and reduced interest in interaction are just a few of the features that cause one to question a potential diagnosis of autism. It is possible and often practical to begin speech therapy in Toronto before a formal diagnosis is given.

Mother and child sharing a tender moment before speech therapy in Toronto.

Autistic children might also present a limited range of facial expressions, being unable to comprehend language or show a regression (loss of words). The sooner Speech Therapy in Toronto is started, the better the outcomes are going to be. In this article, you will find a number of therapeutic strategies which might be of help. 

Speech Therapy in Toronto Strategies:

#1 Using non-verbal communication 

Interestingly, non-verbal communication accounts for 90% of all communication. Our body language, the gestures we make, along with eye contact, help us interact with other people and communicate our needs. 

A good strategy is teaching the child, through imitation, gestures that can be used daily. You can begin with gestures that are easy to imitate such as: clapping the hands, waving, stomping feet or raising arms in the air. 

#2 Oral Motor Exercises

For children who exhibit few or no facial expressions, this strategy might be quite useful. Performed regularly, it can strengthen the oral muscles, especially the ones around the mouth and jaw. 

The exercises can be practiced with a  mirror, so your child is able to see what their face looks like when they make the specific movements.  You can get some ideas of exercises from this Youtube Channel: Speech Therapy Practice. They have a series of different videos depicting different exercises you can try with your child. 

#3 Animal noises 

A fun beginning step to teach vocal speech might be to try and have the child make animal noises, especially if the child is motivated by animals. Capitalizing on this motivation might be helpful in engaging your child in doing the difficult work of learning to make the sounds. 

Various toys or books can be used to introduce the child to animal sounds. As his/her interest becomes visible, you can move to more complex games – perhaps you can create a toy barn or an animal train, having fun in the process. Be patient and have fun. 

#4 Singing songs

Very few children dislike music. Singing can help the child to learn new vocabulary, rhythm and even new topics or ideas.  

In choosing songs, it is important to take into account not only the current communication abilities of your child, but also their cognitive level. Nursery rhymes are a great place to start for younger children but older children can be introduced to all kinds of music. 

#5 Technology as basis for communication

We are lucky to live in an age where technology is advanced, creating opportunities for us to help autistic children communicate. Augmentative and alternative communication represents an option for children with limited or no functional speech, allowing them to communicate desires, needs, preferences, dislikes and comment. 

There are devices that contain recorded messages, which the child can use with the push of a button. As progress is made, these messages can become more complex. A low tech alternative is a picture exchange communication system.  You can read more about Alternative and Augmentative Communication in this blog I wrote at the end of April. 

#6 Learning how to sequence and tell a story

This is a strategy which is generally used in children with more advanced receptive language, allowing them to continue to develop their language. You would present them with images of the parts of a story, and ask them to put them in order.

For example, you might provide a picture of an empty glass with a carton of milk beside it, another picture with a full glass of milk and a third picture with half the glass of milk drank by a child in the picture. 

In opting for this activity, you would choose to begin by presenting the stories or situations that your child has experienced. This makes it more concrete and is easier for the child. In time, he/she can do this activity alone, or even draw his/her own pictures to tell a story. Many children enjoy ‘authoring’ their own stories. 

#7 Pretend play

Pretend play is a difficult skill for an autistic child to achieve but, with perseverance, it will help improve many aspects of the child’s development. On the plus side, it helps with social interaction, reinforcing communication again and again. 

The strategy would be to choose some of the child’s favorite activities, expanding on their existing sounds, words or sentences. Once you’ve identified what your child is doing naturally, you want to encourage the next step.

For example, if your child is building towers with blocks, you might begin labeling the colours of the blocks or dividing the blocks into colour groups to make red buildings and blue buildings.  You could also create a road (by laying the blocks side by side instead of on top of each other) to expand their play. 

With expanded play comes the opportunity for you to model expanded language use. The more you speak to the child, the more likely it will be for new words to appear in his/her vocabulary. 

These are some of the strategies that might be used in promoting speech and language development in autistic children. We offer speech therapy in Toronto, as well as a number of other useful therapies: Applied Behaviour Analysis, Occupational Therapy and Recreation Therapy – do not hesitate to contact us for a no charge consultation.

10 Fun Occupational Therapy Activities to do at Home During Physical Distancing With Kids

We know how difficult it can be for an autistic child to spend all of his/her time inside the house. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to think outside of the box, finding occupational therapy activities to keep our children on the right path during social distancing. 

As a parent, you are well aware that social distancing has led to a disrupted routine, with your child suffering in the process. In an effort to help you, we have gathered several occupational therapy activities to try at home and have some fun. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Occupational Therapy Activities to Try:

Occupational therapy activity- sensory bottles.




#1 Making a sensory bottle 

This is a simple activity, which offers enjoyment long after it has been done. All you have to do is take a plastic bottle and fill it with water, food colouring, glitter, marbles or anything else that comes to mind. Involve your child in the decision process, and remember to use as many items as possible for a higher visual appeal. 

Occupational Therapy painting with vegetable pieces







#2 Painting with veggie slices

Painting can stimulate different senses, helping your child stay focused. Begin by cutting slices of colorful veggies, such as bell peppers, cucumbers or potatoes. You can then ask your child to dip the veggie slices in paint, pressing them on a piece of paper or a disposable cup. It is a simple yet fun activity to try!

Occupational therapy activity-  sensory bins







#3 Sensory Bins

This is an occupational therapy activity for improving your child’s sensory skills, bringing him/her in contact with various textures. You will need a plastic box or even a tub, which can be filled with balls, beans or beads. The next step will be to place as many toys in there as the space allows it, asking your child to find them, one by one. 

Occupational therapy activity- scent jars






#4 Guess the scent 

Take a number of small containers and add different ingredients with a specific smell. You can use spices from the kitchen, but make sure these are easy to recognize. Ask your child to close his/her eyes and try to guess the scent. Opt for pleasant smells, as these can also induce a state of relaxation. 

Occupational therapy activity- toys in  ice blocks





#5 Getting a toy out of ice

Fill a plastic box with water, then add some toys and place it in the freezer. Keep adding water, until you form a complete ice block. You can use food colouring to make different coloured layers of water. You can then work together with your child to get the toys out, using a hammer or other useful tools. Tip: fill a spray bottle with warm water to get the ice to melt faster.

Occupational therapy activity- homemade playdough





#6 Making scented playdough

If you want to stimulate your child’s sense of smell, you might also want to consider this activity. Homemade playdough is easy to make, requiring simple ingredients, such as flour, salt, cream of tartar, water, oil and food coloring. Once it is ready, just separate it into bowls and add different essences – vanilla, ginger, lemon, cinnamon or almond. Here’s a playdough recipe with just a few ingredients.

Occupational therapy activity-  obstacle course







#7 A fun obstacle course

The great thing about this occupational therapy activity is that you can use anything in your home to create the obstacle course. You can place tape on the floor to offer your child a sense of direction, as well as add items that make the course more complex (such as a hula hoop or a jump rope). For gross motor skills, practice animal walks (hopping, wiggling or jumping). 

Occupational therapy activity- mirror or imitation games





#8 Imitation Games

For autistic children, it can be difficult to mimic another person’s movements. Mirror exercises can be of great help, not to mention they can be easily turned into a fun activity. Stand face-to-face with your child, asking him/her to mimic your movements (head, arms, trunk, and legs). This occupational therapy activity will increase coordination and body awareness. 

Occupational therapy activity- animal pose yoga





#9 Yoga animal poses

Yoga can help children, including those that are autistic, to calm down and find their inner peace. You can teach your little one several poses – the wide-legged standing forward bend can be imagined as an elephant swaying his trunk, while the plank pose can be taken for a crocodile. The downward-facing dog pose can remind the child of a bear, while the cat pose resembles a tiger. 

Occupational therapy activity- scavenger hunt






#10 Indoor scavenger hunt 

The indoor scavenger hunt is an activity in which the whole family can participate, being beneficial from multiple points of view: development of gross and fine motor skills, problem solving and social interaction. It can represent a challenge for the autistic child, especially if you choose objects that he/she is uncomfortable with, but, with your help, he/she will enjoy the activity. 

These are only a couple of the occupational therapy activities which you can consider doing with your child at home. As you have seen, these are easy and fun, and they will offer you an opportunity to relax in a time where uncertainty seems to be defining. 

Contact us to book your 30 minute no-charge consultation today if you need help finding activities that your child would enjoy.

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