April 1, 2015 kicked off Autism Awareness Month. According to the CDC, about 1 in 88 people are born with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Despite how common it is, treatments for autism continue to be a challenge for many parents and professionals. There is no “cure” for autism; however, there are therapies that may help improve the symptoms and bring healing, happiness, and increased self-awareness to people with autism. Today, we’ll highlight some of the therapies available.
Some people have found that the ocean may have a calming effect on people with autism. The unique properties of the water and the energy of the waves have been shown to improve developmental skills. Social interaction, self-regulation, speech, motor-skills, strength and coordination are just a few areas that are likely to improve as a result of ocean therapy and surfing.
One pioneer organization, Surfers Healing, teaches children with autism to surf, for free. The founders of Surfers Healing state they are “challenging preconceived notions of capability” when they teach children with ASD to surf. The “weightlessness and rhythm of the ocean” may help these kids deal with the sensory overload they often experience on land. The organization uses this non-traditional therapy to focus on raising the confidence levels of kids with autism, and uniting them with peers who also enjoy surfing. This increases social interaction and may help these children embrace their unique gifts.
Autism spectrum disorder experts are catching onto the benefits of animals for kids with autism. Experts agree that caring for an animal increases their gross and fine motor skills, care-taking skills, and emotional awareness. Therapists participating in animal-assisted therapy find that it is fun for these kids, so they’re more likely to participate.
Animal therapy helps children with autism work on their eye contact, shifting their gaze from the animal to the therapist to share the enjoyment of animal interaction. Petting or caring for an animal may decrease self-stimulatory behavior, such as hand-flapping, rocking, tongue-clicking, and similar actions. Animal therapy benefits children with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s in that it may widen their interests and provide one to share with neurotypical children: a love for pets.
Sensory Integration Therapy
Autism’s symptoms often include sensory-overload from certain textures, sounds, smells, tastes, brightness and movement. Sensory integration therapy, as practiced by occupational therapists, uses play activities in ways designed to change how the brain reacts to touch, sound, sight and movement. For example, for a child who hates touching food, the goal might be to decrease touch sensitivity so the child can comfortably eat a meal. “The rationale is that by changing how sensations are processed by the brain, we help children with autism make better sense of the information they receive and use it to better participate in everyday tasks,” says Roseann Schaaf, lead researcher in recent study funded by Autism Speaks.
These three therapies are just a few of many options available for parents who have a child with autism. For more information on treating autism, visit: https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment.
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