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Occupational Therapy

Director: Andrew Frakes

Occupational therapy aims to enable people to function as effectively as possible in their everyday lives.

Many children with ASDs have some kind of sensory processing disorder. This means they process information about their world and their bodies differently to others. This may affect them in a number of ways: poor balance, difficulties planning movements efficiently, difficulties attending to important information, emotional dysregulation, sensitivity to touch and much more. Stressed and overloaded by the physical and sensory world, they may even shut down and close themselves off from learning.

Participation in meaningful life activities is supported by helping the individual to maintain, improve or develop new skills; adapting the environment; and/or adapting the task requirements. Through occupational therapy, a person with autism can be aided both at home, in the community and within the school setting by teaching skills needed for tasks including dressing, feeding, toilet training, grooming, social interaction, writing, manipulation and scissor use, walking, running, playing and sports, and managing classroom expectations.

With its swings, rope ladders, scooter-board ramp and ball bath, the OT (Occupational Therapy) room at Giant Steps is a fun place in which to explore and play, and while in this happy environment the children learn many fundamental skills. The children begin to have an increased tolerance of movement and improve their balance and postural responses. Certain movements, such as the linear movement of our swings, calm and help organise the nervous system. Deep touch through lying under weighted blankets or jumping into the ball bath, is also very calming for children with autism. Once calm and organised they are in a much better place for learning. Similarly, teachers, parents and therapists at Giant Steps work together to ensure that each child’s sensory needs are met across environments and across their day.

An Occupational Therapist is concerned with supporting an individual to engage in the activities that make up daily life to the best of their ability.

Occupational Therapists seek to do this by enabling people to do things that will enhance their ability to participate or by modifying the environment to better support participation. In the school context, an Occupational Therapist's main focus is to support children to engage in their primary occupation of being a student. At Giant Steps, this is achieved through working within a transdisciplinary team to equip and support children to engage in all classroom, community, routine and playground activities.

Skills which Occupational Therapists bring to the transdisciplinary team include:

  • Assessment of occupational performance (e.g. handwriting, self-care skills), skills required for performance (e.g. gross and fine motor, cognitive) and sensory processing.
  • Goal setting
  • Development and implementation of programs and strategies to improve skills for participation.
  • Environmental modification to enable participation
  • Addressing the emotional and sensory needs of individual students

At Giant Steps, Occupational Therapists work with classroom teams to support each student in three different ways.  Whilst different in style, each way is focussed on sharing knowledge with the whole team. This facilitates skill development for staff members outside of their specialisation, ultimately strengthening all programs at Giant Steps.

  • Demonstration - This is where an Occupational Therapist will take a leading role in developing and implementing a group or individual program. Once established the therapist will focus on ensuring information related to the program is shared amongst the team to enable other team members to complement and/or take over the program
  • Collaboration - This is where a therapist will develop a program with a teacher 'from the ground up'. This provides an opportunity for therapists and teachers to contribute their specialised skills to a program whilst learning from each other
  • Consultation - This is where therapists make recommendations for classes and individual programs based on assessment and observation. Where required, therapists will demonstrate how to implement strategies

Occupational Therapists also play a key role in supporting families. This is achieved through regular communication with families concerning goals for their child, successes and challenges at home and school and recommended strategies for success. A significant part of our Early Learning program involves therapists working alongside families in the home and community to implement strategies to support their child.