How do Occupational Therapists work with Applied Behavior Analysts?

Occupational therapists work with applied behavior analysts in different ways. Most situations involve an applied behavior analyst consulting and coordinating with an occupational therapist to provide services to clients. One of the most effective approaches for teaching children who have either learning or autistic challenges is through a combination approach of occupational therapy and applied behavior analyze.

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) uses the scientific principles of behavior management to execute meaningful changes. Schools and private programs use applied behavioral analysis because it provides education structure, a consistent monitoring system and helps teachers calculate progress levels. The purpose of applied behavioral analysis is to empower children with skills that they can use in their natural environment.

These skills are usually introduced through discrete trial training, which is the technical term for teaching a certain skill in a repetitive and structured way. Children’s responses to the learning is carefully documented to help teachers identify roadblocks, create prompts, resolve issues and increase independence. Skills learned through private sessions with applied behavior analysts must be developed in other settings, such as homes, libraries and classrooms.

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How Occupational Therapy Helps

Occupational therapy (OT) directly benefits applied behavioral analysis activities and programs. Occupational therapists help children with sensory experiences involving sights, smells, touch, sounds, tastes and movement. Children with learning disabilities or autism may experience serious difficulties processing, understanding and reacting to sensory stimulation. The ability of these children to process sensory information may be impacted by either hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to stimulation.

Many children who engage in problematic behaviors or anti-social tendencies may actually be experiencing difficulties processing and understanding sensory information and their environment. Occupational therapists use observation and data collection to create a plan that addresses and rectifies specific behaviors. These sensory activities are performed before attending applied behavioral analysis sessions. Common activities that assist with sensory processing involve movement, such as jumping, work activities, such as drawing, and equipment, such as weighted vests.

Occupational Therapy Example

The ultimate goal school-based occupational therapy sessions is to support a child’s health and participation in life through engaging in tasks and activities. The occupational therapy process begins with an evaluation that helps to determine how many developmental milestones that child has or has not met. This helps the occupational therapist to select developmentally appropriate goals for the corresponding applied behavioral analysis program. Occupational therapy evaluations are helpful in understanding why and how a child struggles with certain tasks.

For instance, children who struggle with writing may actually have coexisting problems with visual memory, muscle weakness, posture and eye-hand coordination. Pediatric professionals who specialize in occupational therapy use play, education, activities of daily living and social participation activities to build skills. They may use a play-based approach that exposes children to a variety of toys, games and alternative ways to engage in play.

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Occupational therapists work with applied behavior analysts to create and implement unique educational plans for children. They strive to understand the child’s unique learning style in order to help children process sensory information and achieve their fullest potential.