April is Autism Awareness Month. The Autism Society calls it a time to wear blue, a color promoting calm and acceptance, and to focus on inclusivity and fairness, especially in the workplace.
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that affects 1 in every 68 births in the United States. Autism affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.
Pediatric Therapy for Autistic Patients
“We treat a lot of autistic patients in pediatric therapy,” said Pam Modugno, a pediatric occupational therapist at Bacharach. “The age range varies from children that are 1-year-old to elementary school and older. We are usually helping these patients with feeding or with a sensory processing disorder.”
A sensory processing disorder occurs when the nervous system has difficulty processing sensory information, whether from sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or proprioception.
Sensory disorders have many manifestations and there are many approaches to treatment.
- Auditory disorders: Some autistic children cannot tolerate loud noises, while others may seem indifferent to any kind of noise. Therapists may work on calming activities and even provide overly sensitive children with headphones to block out distracting sounds.
- Vestibular disorders: The vestibular system tells us where we are in the world so that we know which way is up or down, how fast we are moving, and when to make adjustments. When there is dysfunction in interpreting those signals, the child may exhibit inappropriate behaviors, including rocking, spinning, or performing the same movements over and over. In the case of children who need a great deal of physical activity, an obstacle course may help them to obtain the movement they need so that they can stay calm. Some children are the exact opposite and are oversensitive to movement. These kids would prefer to be glued to the carpet. To treat kids like this, therapists would start slowly and gently and work up to different activities. For example, they will have the child sit on a swing on the floor and then work to get the child on a higher swing and even go on the equipment with them.
- Sensitivity to touch: Some autistic children are very sensitive to the feeling of clothing and need to have clothes without tags and socks without seams. Bacharach offers therapeutic brushing that helps to desensitize children’s bodies.
“All the different techniques we use depend on the child,” said Pam. “When they first come to us each child is evaluated so we get a full understanding of their needs and determine if sensory input affects them. We set up an individualized 12-week therapy program for each child and then re-evaluate to see if they need to continue therapy.”