The province of Ontario provides funding to families of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Recently, the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) has changed many times. To learn more, read Ontario Autism Program: a short history.
Who can get the OAP funding?
To access the funding your child must:
have a diagnosis of autism (given by a qualified professional)
Meanwhile, the current program is changing from a childhood budget model to a needs-based therapy model. Don’t worry, you do not have to register again for the OAP if you have registered before. The new program will hopefully begin in March 2021. So far, the province has not released any details of how the new program will work or who will determine each child’s therapy needs.
As the program continues to change, autistic kids fall into 4 categories:
Behaviour Plan Budget (Legacy funding)
Interim One-Time Funding.
Side by Side Therapy can help guide you through the uncertainty that comes with changes in funding. Also, we work with you to make the most of your child’s funding.
What can be purchased with Ontario Autism Program funding?
OAP funding can purchase: ABA services, Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy and respite services. Side by Side Therapy offers all of these services. OAP funds can be used to purchase materials and equipment that will benefit your child’s learning. In addition, families are able to purchase a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a tablet/iPad or a smartphone to help their child.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
#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.
#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!
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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).
#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.
#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.
#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.