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How Occupational Therapy Has Helped Me as an Autistic Adult

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When my old therapist recommended that I try occupational therapy, I have to admit I was skeptical. I thought OT was for autistic kids or for people recovering from strokes or other neurological conditions. I thought it was something that would have helped me greatly as a kid, but that by age 27, I had outgrown its potential benefits. But I wasn’t just skeptical; I was desperate.

I was desperate for relief… relief from constantly hurting myself, relief from being constantly overwhelmed and consumed by sensory issues. Essentially, I needed relief from myself. So I decided to try it out. I called my primary care physician and she wrote me a script for occupational therapy. The OT office called and got me scheduled. It took a little while to get going. At my first appointment, the occupational therapist asked a lot of questions that seemed to touch on every aspect of my life then had me take home a sensory profile to fill out. I dutifully answered questions relating to all the different senses, including vestibular and proprioception, and returned it. Then we got to work.

My experience with occupational therapy has been that the therapist serves as this idea generator/expert troubleshooter. If I have a problem in any area of my life, she comes up with an idea to lessen the burden and make it easier. We have discussed everything from household chores and laundry (my least favorite task) to following directions more effectively at work. For every question that I answer is a problem, the occupational therapist begins to come up with different ideas to “trial.” Here are a couple of examples:

Problem: I had a hard time keeping my apartment clean. Cleaning was not something that fit nicely into my well-oiled daily routine and there were too many smells/sounds/feels associated with it.

Solution: My occupational therapist made me a calendar that incorporates a little bit of cleaning each day when I get home from work in small 30-minute increments. I have liked this because it doesn’t make me feel overwhelmed and I only have to do one small thing each day. For example, one day may be to wipe down the counters and another day may be to load the dishwasher.

Problem: One of the things the sensory profile revealed was that I was sensitive to smells.

Solution: Trial wearing a little bit of a scent I like (I picked lavender). According to my occupational therapist, the more you can give your body stuff it likes, the better your body can tolerate the stuff it struggles with (or that’s how I interpreted what she said). She recommended that I order a roll-on bottle of lavender oil and keep it with me. I have liked this very much.

I did not think I would like going to occupational therapy each week; however, that has not been the case. Although it is not easy, it eases my mind to know there is someone in my corner who can actually help. My occupational therapist has been extremely patient. She talks slowly and does not try to speed up my responses. She listens to my opinions. We try things slowly; she didn’t just throw a bunch of ideas at me on day one and tell me to go for it. She is methodical. She is kind.

In the past, I have been called complicated and lazy. I have been told there was no hope, that I would always stay the same. For some autistic individuals, that is OK. They like how they are. For me, I needed to change to keep myself safe and to let myself live happily. Occupational therapy has begun to provide an avenue for that change. While I may be complicated, I am not lazy. I just needed help. I am so thankful I gave occupational therapy a chance. I hope others who are suffering like I was may read this and realize there are options out there worth trying.

Getty image by Sarinya Pinnga.

Originally published: March 5, 2018
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