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Spring Brings Awareness to Occupational Therapy, Autism

WHEELING — Throughout the month of April, organizations around the country spread awareness of two topics that are close to our hearts at Easterseals — occupational therapy and autism acceptance.

Occupational Therapy Month

Occupational Therapy Month celebrates the work of the 230,000 occupational therapy practitioners and students in the United States. Occupational Therapy — or OT — can be provided across the lifespan, but Easterseals specializes in pediatric therapy, treating children at our Wheeling and Steubenville outpatient clinics as well as in schools.

Occupational Therapy encompasses many aspects of a child’s life. If a delay is present, OT is used to help children learn life skills like play, self-care, fine motor and visual motor/perceptual, which allows them to be more independent in their daily lives.

Easterseals has a team of four occupational therapists and one certified occupational therapy assistant serving the mid and upper Ohio Valley. Together, they provide more than 5,500 occasions of service each year.

Occupational therapists work with children with various needs and diagnoses, including developmental delays, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, learning disorders, sensory integration dysfunction, genetic disorders, vision loss and many more.

Treatment may aim to:

∫ Improve independence in self-care, such as dressing or bathing

∫ Improve development of age-appropriate play and learning skills

∫ Improve fine-motor dexterity (coordination), behavior and social skills, and sensory or perceptual processing

Everyday activities can be used to enhance the development of fine motor skills, such as lacing and sewing activities; playing with wind-up toys; using Play-Doh, Silly Putty or Floam to exercise hand muscles; and using tweezers or tongs to pick up items.

Some of the fine motor developmental milestones include transferring objects from one hand to the other between 4 to 8 months, imitating a vertical line on paper by 2 years, and independently managing buttons, snaps and zippers between 4 to 4.5 years.

If these milestones aren’t being met, follow the mantra of early intervention specialists: “Don’t wait; evaluate.”

Autism Acceptance Month

In April, we also celebrated Autism Acceptance Month. Acceptance takes awareness one step further by encouraging people to embrace neurodiversity, continue learning and be inclusive of people with autism.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that affects communication, reciprocal social interactions and play, interest and behavior. The CDC estimates that 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with ASD, with boys being four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.

Autism symptoms are generally present prior to age 3 and are categorized in the following areas:

∫ Communication: Not speaking or limited speech; echolalia (meaningless repetition of another person’s words); problems answering questions; speech that sounds robotic.

∫ Social skills: Poor play skills; poor eye contact; overly focused on topics that interest them; inappropriate emotions; problems making friends.

∫ Environmental reactions: Rocking, hand flapping, and other self-stimulating movements; difficulty dealing with changes in routine; hyper- or hyposensitive to sensory input; limited variety in diet.

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