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Occupational Therapy for Toddlers Diagnosed with Autism and Finding the Right Therapist

Getting occupational therapy with the right therapist at the right time can be a huge game changer for toddlers diagnosed with Autism. Read this mom's story, her son's occupational therapy accomplishments, and how she supplements professional therapy with therapy at home to help her son thrive.

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This is part 2 of Letitia's story. Letitia is a friend of mine, and in Part 1 of her story, she shared how she came to terms with the Autism Diagnosis. If you haven't read that, please click on the link and read the interview with her (or watch the video if you prefer video). You're going to be glad you did.

Letitia started a Facebook page called Color me Au-Some because she wanted to create a space where parents who are going through the same experiences can see that they are not alone, that there are others out there who get what they are going through. Go follow her page on Facebook, or share it with a friend who might benefit from having a community of parents going through the same thing.

Letitia's toddler son Teygen is 3 years old, and he sees the same feeding therapist that my son sees for feeding therapy for his picky eating.

In this part of the interview with Letitia, she answers the following question:

What kind of occupational therapy are you doing with Teygen? Are you doing anything at home to supplement the professional therapy?

If you prefer videos instead of reading, here is her response to the question:


Occupational therapy for sensory issues

Teygen has an excellent occupational therapist who flies to Grand Bahama from Nassau biweekly. She has been one of my biggest supporters. It's amazing.

In the beginning, Teygen had a textile issue. He didn't want to touch anything that didn't look or feel right. He didn't want to touch grass. There were little nuances that she picked up on when I didn't understand why he was fussy and agitated. But she got it: The texture is wrong. It doesn't look right. Especially when it comes to eating.

Teygen had a problem with stuff that's too soft, or the wrong color, or a certain shape. He preferred round, small things. When I figured that out, I rushed to the store and I would buy Cheerios, anything that was a small circle shape. And it was OK for a while, but then I noticed he wasn't eating much. 

His occupational therapist is so creative and she picks up ways for him to pass his issues with textile stuff. She gets him. She can handle him. Teygen is a big boy and he is strong. It's a lot for me to wrangle him.

Every time I pick him up from his therapy session she would say "Teygen did this and did that." I couldn't believe it! I thought, Teygen didn't do that. He didn't play with sand. He is not gonna do that. 

Opportunities for occupational therapy at home

The OT would give me pointers on what to do at home: When you go to the beach, make him walk through the sand. Make him walk through wet sand, dry sand.

Stuff like that I wouldn't necessarily think of but she made me more alert and more aware of what his difficulties were, things that were hindering and frustrating him.

By the way, these kinds of activities are EXACTLY what 52 Weeks of Sensory is all about! It's a year's worth of sensory activities that I developed for toddlers, with a focus on picky eater toddlers but ANY toddler can benefit from more sensory play! Read more about it: 52 Weeks of Sensory. OK, back to you Letitia.

From that point on, when she wasn't here, I took it as a project. She pointed out that everything I did with Teygen had a therapeutic aspect to it, which I didn't realize. If Teygen is outside playing, we run around and I throw some grass at him. Or we take one shoe off  and he has to walk across the grass to get some chips.

At first it was hard and he didn't want to step on the grass and he was tiptoeing on the grass. Now Teygen is the kid who will go outside barefoot and run in the grass if the door is unlocked. Which is great because that is what we did growing up; we walked around barefoot in the dirt, the grass, the mud. 

Everything I do with him has a therapeutic aspect to it: With his eating, I try to make him put his hand in the food. It's not convenient for me. It's a mess. And at first he is going to scream and not want to touch it, but by the end of the night he has a head full of spaghetti.

That kind of immersion, tough love, has made so much progress by leaps and bounds. I can't even say he has a textile issue anymore. With food, there are still a few foods he won't eat that he gags when he sees, but touching things, playing with things, interacting with things... his issues are being dealt with and being addressed. 

Choosing the right occupational therapist

When you think of your child having to do occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, speech therapy, any of these things, you need to choose someone who your soul and your spirit cling to. Every time he goes, he fusses at first because she is going to make him do the hard stuff. And by the end of the session, he is running and laughing and playing because he got over it.

He is proud that he got over it.

Our occupational therapist's spirit matched with my spirit in a way that she became a friend of mine. She is the first person I message when Teygen does something new or he gets over a milestone that we fought for.

The level of excitement that comes from her, it's like "oh wow, you just took it to another level for me!" So you need to find the therapist that gives you the support, the excitement, and encouragement that you need. It will go a long way, trust me.

Another example is the hand flapping. Her response to it was "oh that's not hand flapping, he is waving bye. It's an accomplishment because he was never doing that before." She knows him, and she educates me: when he starts doing his stimming, that is because he is frustrated. 

Alternatives to speech therapy at home

Teygen was also doing speech therapy, and we discontinued that for varied reasons. Under the advice of a professional, I started playing Preschool Prep DVDs for Teygen. (You can find them on Youtube or buy the DVDs here.) He has made excellent strides. He started saying letters, he started saying numbers. He can identify letters, numbers, colors, anything. 

Anytime he wants a snack, he has to point out all the letters on the back before I open it. He has to say the word Cereal, show me the letters c, e, r ,a, l, and show me the colors on the box. Then I ask him to get the milk. Then I ask him to get the bowl and the spoon. He puts all these things together, puts everything back, throws things in the garbage.

And he is proud of it. I am giving him a lot of tasks to do which helps him follow instructions.

I am just trying to push him forward with the speech, cognition, understanding and following instructions.

When I speak to him, I speak to him deliberately and intentionally. I make sure he sees my mouth moving, make sure he understands my words. I get him to try to form the letters.

Using a mirror

A big thing for him is a mirror. Teygen loves the mirror, loves looking in the mirror trying to say words because he sees what he is doing with his mouth. On my phone, I turn the camera on and he looks at himself and makes faces, and also tries to say words.

There's so many little things you can do to supplement professional therapy. Just be creative with it. Follow your OT's advice and tune into blogs like High Chair Chronicles because there is a lot of stuff you can do with your kids. Trust me. It will go a long way.

Thank you!

Letitia, it's been amazing hearing your story. You are amazing for taking action so quickly and getting Teygen tested and involved in occupational therapy. I know it's a hard process here in Grand Bahama because of our limited resources, but you put Teygen first and knew that the sooner you are able to start occupational therapy the more he can benefit from it.

I loved hearing about Teygen's progress! It is amazing that he just turned 3 and is already able to get everything he needs from the fridge for a snack and put things back. That is an impressive accomplishment for any three year old.

Please go follow the Facebook page Color me Au-Some to hear more insights, tips, and thoughts around the Autism diagnosis.

And please share this on Facebook and save it on Pinterest if you think it might be helpful for other moms to read this!

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