People with autism may have difficulty with social skills from childhood all the way through adulthood. In terms of advocacy for those with autism, a better understanding and acceptance of these people is my hope. Still, people with autism can benefit from therapy such as occupational therapy to help them function for everyday tasks in school, work, social interactions, relationships, leisure, healthcare, and more.
Individuals with autism may have difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, such as making eye contact, understanding tone of voice and facial expressions, and initiating or maintaining conversations. They may have difficulty with understanding social cues and interpreting social situations, such as recognizing sarcasm, understanding body language, and knowing how to respond appropriately in different social contexts. Individuals with autism may have difficulty with initiating and maintaining interactions with others, such as understanding and responding to social cues, sharing interests, and understanding the perspectives of others. Also, individuals with autism may engage in repetitive behaviors or have restricted interests that can make it difficult for them to participate in social activities or maintain friendships. Last, they may have difficulty processing sensory information which can impact their ability to participate in social interactions.
All these difficulties with social interactions can lead to isolation, lack of friendships, lack of social support, difficulties with employment, difficulty with adaptation to society and overall lower quality of life.
Occupational therapy can help individuals with autism improve their social skills by using a variety of techniques and interventions. These include:
- Peer mentoring: Occupational therapists can employ the use of peers, typically those who are typically developing, to support their mentees on the spectrum.
- Social skills training: Occupational therapists can work with individuals with autism to teach them the social skills they need to interact effectively with others.
- Play therapy: Occupational therapists may use play therapy to help individuals with autism practice social interactions and develop their communication skills.
- Sensory integration therapy: Occupational therapists may use sensory integration therapy to help individuals with autism regulate their sensory input and respond appropriately to social cues.
- Support in home, school, and community settings: Occupational therapists can also provide support and guidance to individuals with autism in various settings to help them navigate social interactions and build relationships.
- Role-playing: Occupational therapists may use role-playing exercises to help individuals with autism practice and master social interactions in a safe and controlled environment.
- Video modeling: Occupational therapists may use video modeling to demonstrate appropriate social behaviors and help individuals with autism learn how to respond in different social situations.
- Social narratives: Occupational therapists may use social narratives to help individuals with autism understand and predict social interactions, and learn how to respond appropriately.
- Self-regulation and emotional management: Occupational therapists can help individuals with autism develop self-regulation and emotional management skills, which are essential for successful social interactions.
- Collaboration with other professionals: Occupational therapists often work in collaboration with other professionals such as speech therapists, psychologists, and behavior analysts to provide comprehensive care for individuals with autism.
- Advocacy: Occupational therapists can be advocate for their client with autism, which believe it or not, may be in conflict with parents, families, and educators. But one could argue that it is in the person with autism’s best interest to have someone support their side in world where this may not be the case.
Overall, occupational therapy is an effective resource for helping individuals with autism improve their social skills using the best of their strengths. OT can be tailored to an individual’s specific needs and abilities and can be used in a variety of settings to support social and emotional development throughout their life.