Occupational therapy can be beneficial for individuals with autism, particularly in helping them develop the skills needed for daily living and participation in social and educational activities. It may involve working on fine motor skills, sensory processing, and social interaction.
Compared to White children, children from racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to be diagnosed with ASD and more likely to be mis-diagnosed or diagnosed later; and once diagnosed, they receive fewer ASD services.1
Minority populations may have less access to occupational therapy services due to socioeconomic and cultural barriers. It is important for occupational therapists to be aware of and sensitive to these issues in order to provide culturally competent care for minority individuals with autism.
African American individuals with autism may face unique challenges due to cultural and societal factors. Research has shown that African American children are less likely to be diagnosed with autism compared to their white counterparts, which may be due to a lack of culturally competent assessment tools and healthcare providers who are not aware of the cultural diversity of autism.
Cultural factors may also play a role in how autism is perceived and understood within the African American community. Some families may not be familiar with autism or may view it as a “white disorder” and may not seek out services or support. Additionally, some families may be hesitant to have their child diagnosed with autism due to the stigma associated with the disorder and concerns about how it may impact their child’s future.
African American individuals with autism may also face additional barriers to accessing services and support, such as lack of transportation, lack of health insurance, and limited access to culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
It’s also important to have a diverse and culturally competent workforce to provide services to African American families and individuals with autism, so they can feel more comfortable and understood.
Research has shown that minority children had lower scores in language, communication, and gross motor than non-minority children. Findings indicate that subtle communication delays may be undetected or presumed unremarkable by parents of minority toddlers, and that more significant delays are needed to prompt the search for intervention services.2
It is important for occupational therapists to consider cultural and linguistic differences in the assessment and treatment process. It may also be necessary to work with community organizations and other service providers to ensure that individuals have access to the resources and support they need to participate in occupational therapy and make progress towards their goals.
To provide culturally competent care, occupational therapists should be aware of individual cultural differences in communication, values and beliefs, and family dynamics that may affect the therapy process. They should also be aware of the specific needs of different minority groups, such as language barriers or lack of resources.
Occupational therapists should be aware of the cultural stereotypes and biases that may affect the assessment and treatment of minority individuals with autism. This can be difficult in communities where there are not many minorities.
In addition, occupational therapists should make efforts to involve the family and community in the therapy process, as they can play a significant role in helping the individual with autism to achieve their goals. If possible, including all relevant caregivers, such as fathers is seen as more holistic.
Occupational therapists often work in partnership with other professionals, such as speech therapists, psychologists, and special education teachers, to provide a comprehensive and holistic approach to treatment for individuals with autism from minority populations.
Last, is important to remember not to focus on this condition on only pediatric groups. People with ASD grow up to be adults, who then face potential exposure due to being a minority. This can be intentional or unintentional. Therefore, psychosocial approaches combined with a strength based model may be helpful to empower these clients to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Autism in adulthood can present a number of challenges. Many individuals with autism continue to struggle with social interaction and communication, which can make it difficult to build and maintain relationships, find and keep employment, and live independently.
Adults with autism may also have difficulty with executive functioning, which includes skills such as planning, organization, and problem-solving. These difficulties can make it challenging for individuals to manage daily living tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and budgeting. The benefit of OT is direct practice and engagement in the specific activities.
Adults with autism may also experience mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and difficulty managing stress. Additionally, many adults with autism may have co-occurring medical conditions such as sleep disorders, gastrointestinal issues, and chronic pain. OTs can address these difficulties as well.
Occupational therapy can be beneficial for adult with autism, particularly in helping them develop the skills needed for daily living, education and vocational activities. Occupational therapy may also provide direct support for independent living, social and community engagement – in these natural environments.
Healthcare professionals such as OTs should consider the unique needs of adults with autism and develop a treatment plan that addresses these needs specifically. Additionally, providing support and resources for adults with autism and their families is vital to improving overall outcomes and quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum as they transition into adulthood.
- Angell, A. M., Empey, A., & Zuckerman, K. E. (2018). A review of diagnosis and service disparities among children with autism from racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States. International review of research in developmental disabilities, 55, 145-180.
- Tek, S., & Landa, R. J. (2012). Differences in autism symptoms between minority and non-minority toddlers. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 42(9), 1967-1973.