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Making a Difference for Children with Autism through Occupational Therapy - September 2008

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Making a Difference for Children with Autism through Occupational Therapy

By: Britt Collins M.S. OTR/L

While completing my degree in Occupational Therapy, I met Odin (2 ½ years old) who was being evaluated for an autism diagnoses by a specialist Dr. Anshu Batra in Los Angeles CA. Odin had been listed under PDD-NOS by the state of California and as developmentally delayed by the Santa Monica-Malibu School district. His parents wanted answers and they needed help. His mother, Jackie, asked me to evaluate him as an OT.

My observation was that Odin had sensory integration disorder as well as the autism diagnoses from Dr. Batra. Odin wasn't interested in wearing clothes most of the time and when he did wear clothes, he was very picky about how they felt on his skin. He would lie on the floor looking at his toys sideways, always keeping his head on the ground. Like many children with autism, Odin lined up his toys neatly and if anyone tried to play with his toys, he would become very upset. Odin was a very picky eater and most of the time would only eat things that were white, such as plain pasta, French fries and Cheerios. He hated going in the car, making himself throw up and screaming. His extreme aversion to people made it impossible for his parents to take him to the park or even family functions.

OT and Behavioral Intervention working together
In this particular case, I realized that I was helping Odin overcome a lot of his sensory difficulties as well as come out of his shell to function in the typical world around him. While I was in college and graduate school, I worked as an ABA (applied behavior analysis) consultant with children with a variety of disabilities but all had intense behavioral issues. I used a lot of these basic ABA principles when working with Odin as he would become defiant and refuse to do certain tasks. Through ABA and Sensory Integration, I was able to find a balance to Odin's world to teach him new things without overwhelming his sensory system, and decreasing his behavioral overreactions.

For example, I would give Odin two choices of something that I wanted him to do and give him time to respond to these choices being patient and not pushing him. I would also give him the option to do it first by himself, and if he couldn't do that, then I would offer to help him. I always followed through with any promise that I made no matter how great or small. When you tell a child that you are going to take something away, or give them something for working hard, you need to be able to follow through with that promise to gain credibility with the child.

Making a Difference
I would give Odin's mom Jackie, homework and things to do with him when I wasn't there. I would explain to her why I was doing what I was doing with Odin and soon we began to see results. Odin began speaking in three word sentences and he blossomed into a highly verbal child. His mom believes that the Occupational Therapy was allowing him to become more comfortable and adjusted, thus opening the pathways to communication. Odin began to actually play with toys appropriately and would tolerate someone else coming into his "play world" and participating. He also began to become more comfortable with certain peers and would play with other children that he knew from preschool. He still would want to have the games go his way and had a hard time being a follower. I believe he needed to know what to expect and if he was able to lead the game or play activity, he would know how things were going to go and wouldn't have as many surprises.

Odin still had difficulty at times wearing certain clothes with different textures. I would give him a choice between 2 outfits and have him choose which one he wanted. I would always make sure he wore good supportive shoes when we went to the park, even though he usually didn't like the feeling of socks and tennis shoes. He preferred being barefoot or having sandals on. Using a combination of ABA, OT principles and sensory integration, I was able to really make a break through with Odin and his family. One of the main reasons Odin has made so much progress is the follow through from the family and caregivers.

We made it to Kindergarten!
Odin is now in a regular education kindergarten classroom with an assistant for transitions, P.E. and recess time. He is an avid learner, tackling reading, writing and math skills. He's showing a lot of interest in science and another unexpected turn is that he loves performing and singing.

Odin has made various friends over the years, but continues to struggle in a new social situation until he becomes comfortable with new peers. Odin has been an amazing influence in my life and he and I share a special bond.

This Month's Featured Vendor: TRP Wellness

Special Thanks to Britt Collins, OTR/L for contributing this month's Therapy Corner Article.

A Need Leads to a Tool
Like most parents dealing with an autism diagnoses, the Olson's didn't know what to expect nor which direction their journey with Odin was headed. No parent can know how or which therapy their child is going to respond to and what will work for them until they try. Since OT did work so well for their family personally, Britt Collins, OTR/L and Jackie Olsen created a DVD to help other parents and educators learn more about Occupational Therapy and Sensory Integration. This DVD has been created as a visual learning tool for parents, caregivers and educators to learn and implement OT and sensory integration into their child's daily activities.

Many parents and educators have responded positively to this visual learning tool and are using this DVD to carry over their occupational therapy that their child is already receiving to help generalize those skills. More DVD's are being made this summer including; an OT and Yoga DVD, OT in the Home, and OT in the Classroom.

About Britt
Britt grew up with a younger sister with special needs, and always knew she wanted to work with this special population. She completed her undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Studies and then went on to earn her Masters degree in Occupational Therapy, both from Colorado State University. While completing her graduate courses, she worked as a behavior consultant with children who were on the autism spectrum and had various behavior disorders. She has worked in private therapy clinics for children, schools across the country, skilled nursing facilities, homes and hospitals. Britt is currently having her first children's book published and her DVD "OT for Children with Autism, Special Needs and Typical" is available on and Britt is going to be speaking at several OT and Autism conferences across the country over the next few months. Britt can be reached at

Tags: September 2008 Newsletter OT Article Autism Book