Children with autism are also children with smiles and laughs and personalities, with families, with favourite foods and favourite colours and special toys and all the individual quirks and traits that make them unique. Autism will present different challenges for each child, that’s why every child with autism will do best when they have a therapy plan designed just for them.

There are a number of different health professionals who can deliver therapies to children with autism and their families, and sometimes a few different health professionals may work together in an interdisciplinary team, to deliver a program that really suits your child. Understanding their roles can help you navigate the system for your child and your family, more effectively.

Here are some of the specialists who work with children with autism – and what they do.

Occupational Therapists (OTs)

An OT can help your child with learning everyday skills. These can include learning how to eat independently, getting themselves dressed, and attending to personal hygiene tasks (taking themselves to the toilet, cleaning up, handwashing and bathing).

OTs can also work on fine motor skills (from opening latches to mastering handwriting) and gross motor skills (like learning how to throw and kick a ball).

Sometimes an OT might also work on helping children play and interacting with their peers. The OT will often work with a speech therapist and perhaps a psychologist to help your child develop useful strategies they can use to interact with other children.

Finally, an OT can work support the family to help change any behaviours of concern.

Speech Pathology (Speechie)

A speech pathologist can work with you and your child and with your child’s teachers to help your child improve their communication. This can include listening and understanding language, and speaking and using voice and signs to communicate.

An SP who is experienced with ASD will use evidence-based early-intervention therapies to help children with their speech and language development and with their social communication, as well as other aspects of your child’s development, including eating and drinking.

If your child is non-verbal, an SP can help you and your child access and understand visual aids, gestures, symbols and other assisted communication. These can also help address behavioural issues which often arise through frustration when children struggle to communicate.

Social Worker

A social worker will help the whole family to adopt coping strategies that could reduce pressure on both your child and the rest of your family. A social worker can assist with recommendations to help other children in the family, or on ways that different therapies and strategies can be incorporated into the family’s everyday life.

A social worker can also help families to access services, such as translation services for families with non-English speaking backgrounds or different resources for those families that have other issues to deal with such as mental health, disability or domestic violence.

Social workers can also help with plans to help your child transition into the school environment.

Multi-disciplinary teams

At SDN, our therapists work in teams of therapists from different disciplines. Children who use SDN’s children’s therapies will usually have one key therapist that they work with regularly, who will work closely with speech pathologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists in their team who they can call on at any time to for advice on supporting your child, or can even organise for your child to meet with that therapist directly.

When your child comes to SDN, we’ll work with you and your family to identify goals that you hope to achieve with your child. Then we can find the right professional to be your main contact point as you plan your child’s therapies.

SDN also has a purpose-built site, Beranga, which specialises in intensive service delivery for children with autism and their families.

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