Refers to a group of characteristics that include social skills deficits, self-regulation difficulties, repetitive behaviors, self-care deficits, speech, and nonverbal communication difficulties. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 54 children have Autism.


Changes in preferred or regular activities, routines, and transitions from one activity to another may cause behavior disorganization episodes (meltdowns), aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, refusals, and other non-purposeful behaviors.


In self-care, the texture of clothing and the textures, flavors, variety, and temperature of foods may be hindered by Autism, as the intra- and extra- oral sensory processing may be impacted.

DSM-5 Autism Diagnostic Criteria

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):

  1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.

  2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.

  3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts, to problems in sharing imaginative play or in making friends, to the absence of interest in peers.

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

  1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).

  2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take the same route or eat food every day).

  3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).

  4. Hyper- or hypo- reactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

How Occupational Therapy can help

Fine Motor Skills (development of small muscles needed for fingers to pick up small items, such as Cheerios®)

Visual Motor Integration (hand eye coordination, such as picking up small pieces of food from the plate and getting it to the mouth)

Gross/Fine Motor Planning and Coordination/Postural stability (mounting dismounting stable and moving surfaces, uneven surfaces, adjusting to obstacles and moving equipment, walking, standing, running, gross play skills)

Cognition and perception (thinking and problem solving, such as trying to figure out how to get a toy out of a box)

Sensory Processing (self-regulation strategies, use of sensory strategies to support alertness, attention and meaningful engagement and learning through purposeful activities, efficient sensory processing skills integrate information coming in from the different senses, such as adjusting your walk from the boardwalk to the sand and into the water at the beach, as well as sustaining attention and learning)

Feeding Difficulties (Social interaction surrounding food, repetitive patterns in food preferences, opportunities for varied food experience, communication about food, altered sensation of hunger and satiety, anxiety when relating with food, and sensory strategies to tolerate different types of food textures, temperatures, and flavors)


Environmental modifications/adaptive equipment/ technology (modifying the environment so a child can “do” the “work,” such as sliding a special pencil grip onto the pencil so it can be held securely for writing)

Get started with Occupational Therapy