How an Occupational Therapist Can Support Someone on the Autism Spectrum

Everyone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is different. However, there are often similarities that people with ASD may need support with to maximise their ability to live a fulfilling life. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has embraced a customer centric focus in all aspects including the development of individualised plans. One of the most common forms of therapeutic support for people with ASD is Occupational Therapy (OT).


What is Occupational Therapy?


OT is a form of therapy that focuses on the functional aspects of a person. This broad scope of practice can include anything from correctly fitting a wheelchair to identifying safety issues for someone’s residence, even skill-building in various domains. OTs work collaboratively with their clients to ensure that the client’s goals and values are the priority. This article will explore some of the ways an OT can assist a person living with ASD.


Fine and gross motor skills


Children living with ASD can have issues with fine and gross motor skills. Gross motor skills might include things like keeping balance when running or kicking a ball. In contrast, fine motor skills involve things like writing or doing up small buttons on clothes.

An OT can build these skills over time with tailored exercises that can be done with a family member or friend, as well as the therapist or therapist’s aid. Additional supports, such as a support worker, can also assist in these exercises. The OT will supervise progress over time and can change the activities as required. This change may occur if the exercises could be more efficient; if a new need has been identified, or because the person has increased their skill. Adapting exercises over time is one of the ways an OT can ensure the best outcome for an individual with ASD.


Assessing Assistive Technology


Assistive Technology (AT), in NDIS terms, is equipment that assists someone to do things they can’t usually do by themselves, thereby maximising their independence at home or in the community. There is a broad range of ATs, and they can cover everything from wheelchairs to special spoons that empower someone to feed themselves.


An OT can assess a person and their environment and then provide AT recommendations to be submitted to the NDIS for potential funding. For someone diagnosed with ASD, AT could fill a wide array of roles depending on the person’s needs. For example:

  • Software to aid communication or build language
  • Visual aids for communication
  • Adapted pencil grips to assist fine motor skills
  • Mobility aids to improve gross movement skills


Skill training


The way a person living with ASD learns and develops skills can be different when compared to individuals who are neurotypical. Additionally, people with ASD, just like neurotypical people, can experience anxiety that inhibits their ability to think clearly under pressure. Anxiety can also stop someone from trying an activity at all due to the mental health fallout, either leading up to the event or after the event.


OTs can help by breaking down skills in a manageable way and supporting a person to learn at a suitable pace. OTs can also take new approaches or use AT to strengthen the learning process.


Report writing


One of the most important roles of an OT is providing relevant reports for the NDIS. Reports inform the NDIS what is needed in the next plan for an NDIS participant as well as why a particular support didn’t work. Reports can also indicate certain new supports that may build a persons capacity and independence.


NDIS participants can request a copy of these reports before they are submitted by either the OT or your Support Coordinator. It can be beneficial to discuss therapy outcomes with your OT and your Support Coordinator to ensure a more accurate snapshot of a person’s life, barriers and achievements.




As you can see, an OT can provide a wide range of therapeutic services to support people with ASD. If you or someone you know may benefit from an OT, speak to your Support Coordinator or Local Area Coordinator about including one in your NDIS plan.