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What I’ve Learned From Working With Autistic Children

Mar 27th, 2024 | by Allyson Bates, OTD, OTR/L, SWC, PAM

Allyson Bates, OTD, OTR/L, SWC, PAM

March 27th, 2024

What I’ve Learned From Working With Autistic Children

As an occupational therapist, I work with children with autism to help them become more independent with day-to-day activities like eating, dressing, and grooming. As a former schoolteacher and practicing OT, I will always be a lifelong learner, striving to better meet the needs of the children I work with. In honor of World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Acceptance Month, I want to share what I have learned from working with Autistic children and how autism teaches us the importance of acceptance, patience, and reflection.  


When I first began working with Autistic children, I honestly struggled to better understand and support them. Our differences made it hard for me to connect and I found myself only teaching these kids to conform to what I viewed as “typical” behavior. The more time I spent with these children, the more I began to accept that all people are different and unique.

I learned that my job is to help the children I work with live life to their fullest potential, but that will look different for every person.  

We live in a world with societal norms and expectations. Everything needs to be done in a particular way that often doesn’t work for these children.  It is hard for parents to watch their children struggle with small things that just came naturally to them.  

I recently read, “The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism” and the author Naoki Higashida shared,  

“To give the short version, I’ve learned that every human being, with or without disabilities, needs to strive to do their best, and by striving for happiness you will arrive at happiness. For us, you see, having autism is normal — so we can’t know for sure what your ‘normal’ is even like. But so long as we can learn to love ourselves, I’m not sure how much it matters whether we’re normal or autistic.”  

One way to support children with ASD includes accepting and valuing our differences.  The responsibility is on us to change our perspective, environment, and norms to better meet the needs of these kids. 


Patience is everything when you’re working with Autistic children. Parents have thanked me for staying positive, celebrating the small victories, and “not giving up” on their children.  

Some parents struggle with therapists stopping treatment because their child responds physically or isn’t learning the skills despite multiple attempts and presentations. Our kids put in so much effort to accomplish daily tasks that we take for granted; let’s reward them with patience and celebration of growth of any size. Autistic children teach us what real goals are and the real things to celebrate. I am not the perfect therapist, but I’ve learned from my patients that staying positive and patient opens up more opportunities for success. 


So many seemingly small things can be endlessly frustrating for my patients—it’s too loud, the tag is scratching at their skin, putting on their jacket is impossible, the routine changed, the activity is new and not what they were expecting. Their frustration may present in different ways, like running away, hitting, or throwing objects. Sometimes, it’s hard not to take their reaction personally or push back with my own frustrations.  

Reflection has helped me more successfully identify the source of their frustrations. Taking the time to identify the source means I can better anticipate their needs and adjust tasks and the environment to meet them where they are. Autistic children often thrive on structure, predictable routines/transitions, wait time, skills broken down into achievable steps, and reinforcement. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution and something that worked today may not have the same result tomorrow. Be persistent, try a new approach, and reflect on what worked or didn’t.  

What Autism Has Taught Me

I hope you enjoyed my personal reflection on autism and what it has taught me. It’s a privilege to learn every day from autistic children who experience the world differently. Our NAPA parents online community is filled with stories from parents who have learned acceptance, patience, and the value of reflection from their children. I’m honored to have the opportunity to join them. 

About the Author

Allyson Bates is an occupational therapist who works with children with autism and other diagnoses to promote independence and enjoyment in meaningful daily activities. She was previously an elementary school teacher and now has worked at the Neurological and Physical Abilitation Center (NAPA) for over ten years. She is passionate about sharing knowledge and research to increase awareness about the kids and families she works with. 

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About NAPA Center

At NAPA, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

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