Autism is a lifelong developmental condition which affects an individual’s ability to interact and communicate with people and the world around them. Children often display restricted and repetitive behaviour such as hand flapping and have difficulties with understanding and using language appropriately.
Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties but being autistic will affect them in different ways, meaning people need different levels of support.

All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing. The exact cause of autism is still being investigated. Research into causes suggests that a combination of factors - genetic and environmental - may account for differences in our development.

Autistic people often have other conditions, like:


  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyslexia
  • Anxiety or Depression
  • Epilepsy

There are approximately 700,000 autistic children and adults in the UK. That’s more than 1 in 100. It tends to affect males more than females. Children can be diagnosed as autistic when they’re quite young, in some cases from the age of two. But not everyone is diagnosed early in life. It’s quite common for a child to not get their diagnosis until they are older, or even an adult particularly if they don’t have accompanying learning disabilities.

Symptoms of Autistic Spectrum Disorder

  • Little interest in play particularly imaginative play
  • Difficulties in forming and maintaining friendships and relationships
  • Repetitive speech or movements such as spinning and hand flapping
  • Resistance to change or doing things differently
  • A strong desire for structure and routine
  • Impulsive behaviour such as biting, kicking or self-harming
  • Not drawing a person’s attention to something or pointing things out i.e. there’s a cat over there
  • Delayed speech
  • Poor eye contact
  • A limited ability to understand questions and instructions
  • Motor co ordination difficulties such as holding a pen
  • Becoming easily agitated with excessive noise, bright lights and certain smells

Some parents are understandably reluctant about getting a diagnosis for their child but often it can bring a sense of relief and understanding of what they have been experiencing. It is a good idea to speak to your GP or health visitor and take a list of your child’s behaviours and characteristics with you on the day. Once your GP is aware of your child’s condition, they will generally refer you for a specialist assessment and formal diagnosis. That is, an assessment carried by a team of professionals. The team might include, for example, a paediatrician, a speech and language therapist and a specialist psychologist.

How Can Occupational Therapy Help?

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve his or her quality of life at home and in school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills so that people with autism can be as independent as possible.

  • Teaching parents and school staff how to recognise a child’s strengths and abilities, needs and challenges and to recognise when a child is becoming distressed and agitated
  • Develop adaptive techniques and strategies to get around difficulties for example, teaching keyboard skills when handwriting is simply impossible; selecting a weighted vest to enhance focus
  • Devise strategies to help an autistic person transition from one setting to another, such as from home to school with a child or from home to independent living with an adult
  • Work on developing physical skills such as balance and co ordination to enable a child to keep up with their peers
  • Support with developing self-care skills such as washing, dressing, cleaning teeth, brushing hair
  • Support with independent living skills such as cooking, washing clothes, independent travel
  • Assess and target any sensory issues and look at ways of enabling a person to be calmer and more focussed with activities
  • Occupational Therapists can make recommendations and identify a quiet area at home so that the child has a place to calm down with overloaded with stimuli to regulate their behaviour
  • Assess for adaptations required at home i.e. some children cannot tolerate a shower so recommendations for a bath can be made, access to a safer garden space and access to their own bedroom as often sharing a bedroom with a sibling can cause many issues and disruptions
  • Advising clients, parents and carers on local and nationwide support groups and services and how to access them

Read our case Studies


Case Study Index