Occupational therapy growing as way to help kids with Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, sensory issues

About a year ago I met a woman in Phoenix who specializes in occupational therapy for children.  Aimee Piller and her husband run the Piller Child Development centers around Phoenix.

Occupational therapy is a rapidly growing field (Bureau of Labor expects a 33 percent growth between 2010 to 2020) that can help children who have Autism, Asperger Syndrome, ADHD, sensory issues and many other conditions. Occupational therapy has become recognized as not only a way to treat motor skill issues, such as writing or balance, but also executive function skills and behavior, such as regulating their bodies and impulse control.

Aimee has an awesome Pinterest site with all kinds of ideas for kids with special needs. She has ideas to help develop:

Fine Motor Skills

Handwriting

Coordination

Sensory Activities

Sensory Places

Visual Skills

Feeding issues (such as extremely picky eaters.)

Oral Motor development

Self-care skills

Social skills

Language Skills

One of my favorite boards has posts about development and milestones, and it may help some parents determine if there is an issue they should talk about with their pediatrician. (I am not trying to make anyone paranoid, but these charts might give you an idea of when typical development occurs.)

There is a quick-hit chart for developmental milestones, a language development chart overview, charts about typical motor development and a chart that tells you which sounds kids should be able to say by what age. (Lots of preschool, kindergarten and early elementary parents wonder about this.)

So I wanted to share these resources with you, but I also wanted to get your experiences and knowledge on great occupational therapists in Atlanta. When I just did a basic Google search for “occupational therapist, Atlanta and Autism,” pages of resources popped up. However, it’s hard for parents to know who to trust. So I would love to hear about your experiences with any metro Atlanta or Georgia OTs and who you would recommend to other parents.

Are you currently using occupational therapy to help a child who has Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, or sensory issues? Are you using one for other developmental issues? What have your experiences been like? Who would you recommend to other families who need similar help?

28 comments Add your comment

Georgia

April 11th, 2013
9:03 am

Is it true that 20% of all high school boys have ADHD?

tee

April 11th, 2013
9:12 am

The OTs that contracted with the Babies Can’t Wait/Early Intervention program were great. Most of them worked with kids on the spectrum on all of these areas you identified. Did some great work with them too.

Grasshopper

April 11th, 2013
9:22 am

So how young is too young to chart, graph, compare and contrast your childs every twitch, guttural utterance and eyelid flutter?

DB

April 11th, 2013
9:27 am

I was going to enthusiastically recommend the OT that was a godsend when when my son was 6/7 — but that was almost 20 years ago, and when I googled her, the website for her practice is no longer active, so she may have retired at this point.

My son’s teacher in first grade “strongly” suggested that he had ADD because of some classroom behaviors. The “testing” at that time consisted of a short survey, and the pediatrician shrugging and saying, “Well, let’s try him on Ritalin and see if there’s any effect,” which horrified me at the casualness in which a psychotropic drug was being prescribed. I put it off, feeling certain that a kid who could spend four hours on a Lego project didn’t have attention issues, :-) but in the meantime, we had visited the OT for fine motor skills issues. After 30 minutes with him, she asked if ADD had been discussed with me, and then went on to say that she didn’t believe it was ADD, but he was exhibiting many symptoms of sensory defensiveness — extremely picky eating, extremely adverse reactions to noise and motion (i.e., hating swings, any ride at Disney that needed restraint, etc.) delayed reading and motor skills, etc. He began treatment, and honestly, the difference was nothing short of stunning. Within six months, he went from barely reading to fourth/fifth grade level books (I didn’t realize how much of reading involved the fine motor skills of the eyes, being able to track words on a page.). We worked with him intensively — therapy weekly for the first six months, plus home assignments — and his teacher thought he was on Ritalin, because of the improvement. It made such a significant difference, we will always be forever grateful. He sailed through school and university with flying colors and academic honors left and right after that. I always felt fortunate that we didn’t end up falling into the ADD “black hole” of endless medications, etc — which would have been useless in our case.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 11th, 2013
10:08 am

DB — CHADD — the group for ADHD — is really advocating for occupational therapy for kids with ADHD — This group treats all the sensory items like feeding, sound, sensitivity such as when you gently brush your child’s hair and they are telling you how much it hurts. They do monthly lectures here for parents and I went to one a while back. It was amazing hearing all the parent questions. Multiple parents talked about their kids not being able hear public toilets flush — that the swoosh sounds totally freaked them out. Who would have thought of that??? We have many friends across the US that have used OTs and everyone I talk to is amazed. That is why I wanted to share about this because there may be parents who are wondering and if this maybe something they had never considered.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 11th, 2013
10:09 am

I hope folks do have some names to share — I think a recommendation means sooo much!!

Speech therapy is also often put under this umbrella.

catlady

April 11th, 2013
10:12 am

Great story, DB!

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 11th, 2013
10:13 am

Georgia — can’t tell if that’s a serious question — but here are stats from CDC

From CDC website — 2011 numbers though

Morbidity

Number of children 3-17 years of age ever diagnosed with ADHD: 5.2 million
Percent of children 3-17 years of age ever diagnosed with ADHD: 8.4%
Percent of boys 3-17 years of age ever diagnosed with ADHD: 12.0%
Percent of girls 3-17 years of age ever diagnosed with ADHD 4.7%

Source: Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2011, Appendix III, table VI Adobe PDF file [PDF - 711 KB]

catlady

April 11th, 2013
10:14 am

I would LOVE it if my system used a good OT like this. Think of the kids whose lives might be turned around, like DBs son!

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 11th, 2013
10:19 am

yeah catlady — that’s all private pay parents going in after-school — I don’t know who are school system uses.

Georgia

April 11th, 2013
10:23 am

Doctors overuse rx and antibiotics. 133 million prescribed courses of antibiotics is an awfully big market not to exploit during the fiscal year. ADHD drugs are a red flag too. How could 20% of all high school boys have ADHD,? If they’re getting 20% of the meds, then the research has become marketing. We’ve been marketed by research into purchasing a ten-fold increase in ADHD meds (since 1993). We now purchase 133 million courses of antibiotics too. You know, during the fiscal year. No, I don’t see how the bird flu could mutate. If God wanted us to catch the bird flu he woulda given us wings.

Ritalin, Dexedrine, Adderall.

Bingo. Dexedrine.

Georgia

April 11th, 2013
10:25 am

MD: …..and wasn’t there a new york times article that you featured on april 1st that stated 20% of high school boys are diagnosed with ADHD?

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 11th, 2013
10:33 am

Georgia– I will look on our site — I google searched quickly and hit those other stats but didn’t search out blog — Will you post it if you pull it up– I’m working on two other items right now -

DB

April 11th, 2013
10:37 am

T, catlady, it was definitely private pay — but some of the best money we ever spent. :-)

[...] more at Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog). Share this news: Filed Under: [...]

DB

April 11th, 2013
10:50 am

Interestingly enough, we were also seeing a psychologist at the same time, trying to get a handle on some of the inexplicable behavior issues. She, too, had strongly suggested ADD, and knew I had talked to the pediatrician about it. She was astonished at the dramatic change, because she thought he had started Ritalin, and when we talked about the therapy, etc.,she was unaware of anything called “sensory defensiveness.” The pediatrician had never heard of it, either — at the time, it was an occupational therapy issue, not a medical one. The psychologist, however, was so wowed by the results that she got in touch with the OT to learn more, and began to incorporate OT screening for many patients before jumping into an ADD diagnosis. OT is a specialty — and it was a very dramatic example to me of how insular the medical and therapeutic professions are from each other.. Each profession is in their own little box — we just lucked out that we happened to need an OT for fine motor skills, and she was sharp enough to pick up on the symptoms.

Georgia

April 11th, 2013
10:52 am

It was on Downey’s april 1st blog. The research suggested that fully one fifth of all high school boys have a diagnosis of ADHD. I wouldn’t joke about ADHD. To me, this data about the 20% was a total bombshell and couldn’t possibly have been right. Well, it’s the AJC’s news story. Is it correct?

DB

April 11th, 2013
10:59 am

The thing about the charts, etc. is that whenever a parent sees those charts and starts to worry about progress, etc., they are almost invariably told that “kids develop at different rates”. We noticed that there were some motor skills that seemed slow in developing — but we all know kids who are clumsy, or just not athletic, etc. Not every kid who screams at “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” or is uncoordinated is sensory defensive. If you talk to a pediatrician about it, they have a tendency to brush it off since it isn’t a medical issue or try to patch it medically. It’s a quagmire.

HP

April 11th, 2013
11:06 am

I can’t say enough about Occupational Therapy. My son is about to “graduate” from therapy. He has been doing it for a little over a year. It has not only helped his overall coordination, but also to find ways to regulate his body.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 11th, 2013
11:08 am

HP — do you want to share who you see??? It may help others if you think they are good.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 11th, 2013
11:29 am

2nd blog up — Who overshares more on social media — Parents or non-parents
http://blogs.ajc.com/momania/2013/04/11/hey-non-parents-you-think-were-oversharing/

Christina

April 11th, 2013
1:32 pm

We used the Babies Can’t Wait and EI school program for my son who has a significant speech delay (partially due to blocked ears at an early age). We also use a private therapist since we noticed a significant drop off in his development once he moved from one-on-one therapy to the school program at the age of three.

He was finally diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (a disconnect between the brain and the motor functions of the mouth). He is getting help and his therapist thinks he will be on par with his peers by the time he is 5-6 as far as speech is concerned.

Anyway, I highly recommend his speech therapists. They are Right Start Therapy in Snellville (Theresa, let me know if this is counter to your policey to mention them here). They have made a world of difference in my sons speech abilities.

catlady

April 11th, 2013
2:04 pm

DB, funny, but I have known about sensory defensiveness for years. Did not know it could be helped with OT, however. Thank you and others SO MUCH for sharing this! I suspect you just did a big favor for more than one child!

Ann

April 11th, 2013
5:46 pm

Anyone who needs to find an occupational therapist in Georgia or has concerns about their child’s development can contact Parent to Parent of Georgia, a non-profit organization that links parents of children with special needs with resources and to volunteer support parents. They have a database of resources on their website p2pga.org that you can search on your own or you can call and speak with a coordinator who will assist you with your search. The database includes all types of services and resources. They also have a Roadmap to Services section of their web site with articles, developmental charts and other information. They hold workshops for parents on how to navigate the school system. And, they can match you with a support parent who has a child in the same situation. All their services are free. They operate the toll free information line for Babies Can’t Wait (Early Intervention) program, but they also serve parents of children of all ages.

Jennifer

April 11th, 2013
6:40 pm

Susan orloff
Stacy Jacobson

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Kat

April 11th, 2013
9:02 pm

Babies Can’t Wait until the age of 3, and THEN kids transfer into the school system. We love our schools!!!

Shelley

April 18th, 2013
11:53 am

Yes, I am currently an occupational therapist helping children who have Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, or sensory issues. At the moment, I’m with the Israeli School System and Pediatric (Developmental Therapy) clinic. In GA, USA, I worked for Babies Can’t Wait, All About Kids Therapy Services, and GASLC, (Greater Atlanta Speech and Language Clinics). I’m not sure who are the occupational therapists there now, but I trust Mindy Elkan (SLP, Clinical Director) to staff well.