I vividly remember certain details after receiving the news of Gilbert’s autism diagnosis, just after his 4th birthday. Yet vaguely recall others.
I know I sat there in the paediatrician’s office in a brown vinyl chair. I remember the colourful town scene sheet on the examination table that had caused Gilbert’s almighty meltdown, mid examination. And I recall the muted light coming through the windows set behind the paediatrician’s desk, offset by dated apricot vertical blinds.
I remember these random details but I don’t recall many of the specifics of her words, especially after she proclaimed he had a diagnosis of autism.
I recall there were a lot of specialists and therapists mentioned at the time but I could not make sense of why they were required amid the confusion. grief and reality of the diagnosis. I understood why he needed to see a speech pathologist (he had echolalia and could not speak in proper sentences at the time) and a psychologist but for the life of me I could not understand why she was recommending he see an occupational therapist (OT) as well.
What did OT have to do with anything? What was the link between occupational therapy & autism?
Back then, I honestly could not see the connection between occupational therapy and it’s value as an early intervention tool for autism.
Now as we head towards the 7th anniversary of diagnosis day (it’s next Tuesday to be exact) I now have the benefit of 7 years experience of accessing occupational therapy support. To date we have seen 8 different OTs from 4 different practices. They have each brought something valuable to our family and have helped Gilbert (and us) overcome a number of everyday difficulties.
So what can an OT do for a child on the autism spectrum? You will be surprised at the many aspects of daily life they can enhance. According to ASPECT, “occupational therapy is an individualised service aimed at building your child’s skills and ability to participate in everyday routines, tasks and activities.” Occupational therapists are trained to assess your child’s needs and current levels of functioning and create therapies to address any identified difficulties. Needs requiring assistance might include developing their fine and gross motor skills, their ability to undertake self care, engage in play and effective learning, organisational skills as well as the management of sensory issues.
As Gilbert also has a vision impairment as a result of his albinism, we have needed to deal with a variety of issues over the years and our OTs have been a godsend. They have helped us improve his core strength, develop balance and climbing skills, identify sensory issues interfering with his diet, manage his anxieties by providing deep pressure therapy, help with his handwriting and fine motor skills, address disruptive sensory seeking behaviours and regulate his responses when he suffers from sensory overwhelm.
At the moment we are working with his current OT to address his anxieties for our upcoming overseas trip to the USA. She has been helping him understand how to rationalise some of his fears and how to practically manage them when they threaten to overwhelm him. As we have progressed through the years the services we have accessed have changed and adapted to his needs. There have been years we have had fortnightly sessions and others where we only attended once a term. Regardless of frequency, the sessions have always been a valuable tool to measure his progress and understand his changing needs.
Throughout the years there is one area we have struggled with when it comes to OT – undertaking the home activities required of any decent OT program. It’s not just attending the appointment – OT is all about reinforcing these strategies at home to ensure that progress is made and consolidated. I must confess that I have not always followed through with the required home activities due to lack of time, forgetfulness and the struggle to get Gilbert onside to complete them.
Thankfully I am not alone in struggling to keep up OT programs at home – I know of many families who also face the same challenge. And now there is a tool available to help us all get back on track and ensure all those gains made at appointments are not lost.
Sensory Treat has been developed by Hadas and Oren Steinberg to help them keep up with the OT needs of their two children, both diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD). Sensory Treat is a program that helps parents keep up with sensory diets prescribed by their OTs. These diets often require intervention every 2-3 hours and, amid the pace of everyday life, they can be easily forgotten or pushed to the side.
The sensory treat app allows parents to set a reminder for when regular sensory activities are due to occur. It also allows parents to note observations on how the activities affect their child, develop their own schedule of activities and document the experiences of the child which can be sent to their OT for more immediate advice and assistance.
The app can also be supported by SensoryMagnets which are a set of 108 illustrations of sensory home activities, grouped by type of sensory simulation – vestibular (balance); oral; heavy work; deep pressure and jumping. These activities are designed to address recognised issues with the main sensory systems of the human body – vestibular, olfactory (smell), proprioception (position of the body in space), visual, auditory, gustatory (taste) and tactile systems.
I was lucky enough to be allowed access to the app for the purposes of review and to a small sample of the magnets too, and I have to say I am very impressed. As a parent that has struggled with sticking to a sensory diet in the past, I know these would be an ideal tool for any family wanting to keep on track with their children’s sensory needs. The magnets clearly demonstrate each activity making it easy for both child and parent to get it right in a home setting. The added functionality of being able to record observations while undertaking the activity make this a useful and powerful a tool for both families and their OTs.
The Sensory Treat app can be purchased by subscription from the App Store and from Google play. A 3 month subscription is $18.99 which would give you a really good feel for the app and help you identify whether it would work for you. A 6 month subscription is $37.99 with a 12 month subscription providing even better value for $44.99. All 108 SensoryMagnets can also be purchased as a complete set for $99.99.
If this sounds like a program that could benefit your family have a chat to your OT and see whether this could be worked into a future therapy program. I would definitely discuss Sensory Treat with your OT before committing to ensure you get the maximum amount of value from this valuable program.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary subscription and a sample of magnets from Sensory Treat for the purposes of review. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this post and all opinions and views are honest and completely my own.