Occupational Therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis: When should these disciplines work together?

There is evidence that using the multidisciplinary approach to therapy yields the best results for our clients. So when an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist notices that a child would benefit from occupational therapy (OT), they will make a referral so that both disciplines can collaborate on strategies to best support the shared client. 

What is ABA?

It is an approach to behavior that involves applying evidence-based practices to increase skill acquisition and decrease challenging behaviors. ABA can address skill deficits across all domains. Oftentimes, ABA is associated with children with Autism, but it can be used for children with or without a diagnosis. 

Although both disciplines overlap in various skill areas, each therapist will bring a different perspective and lens that they use to problem solve ways for the child to be successful. 

When should an ABA therapist make a referral to OT?
  • Sensory Processing Difficulties – a lot of times, bringing an OT on to the team can assist in deciphering sensory vs behavior in a child’s actions. For example, When a child refuses to wear socks, does the child refuse to put on socks due to behaviors or because they are aversive to the tactile input the sock provides to their feet? OTs are the experts in sensory processing and can help advocate and address each child’s sensory needs often resulting in increased positive behaviors and participation.
  • Challenges with motor control and coordinationan OT will help with a child’s growth and strengthening of their bones, muscles and ability to move and touch their surroundings. An occupational therapist’s goal is to improve fine, gross and visual motor skills. Having an OT on the team to help with motor control will in return help with success of the goals the ABA therapist has in relation to those academic and self-care skills. 
  • Decreased self-care skills – although ABA works on independence in self-care skills, OTs can use their unique perspective and make adaptations or modifications along with working on a child’s motor control to make these tasks easier and more successful. 
  • Difficulty with self-regulation – An OT can also be a great asset in helping a child’s self-regulation in the moment when a behavior occurs. The ABA therapist will help define the root cause of the behavior and create an environment to decrease these behaviors, but if they do occur, an OT can assist the child in helping to calm their body when dysregulation does happen. 

All in all, both perspectives are correct and would be equally beneficial for the child. ABA and OT both take a holistic approach to analyzing a client, use bottom-up approaches when providing intervention strategies, value generalization of skills across all environments, and utilize task analysis to break down tasks. Having both disciplines on a team can greatly benefit a child experiencing delays and behaviors. Contact Chicago Occupational Therapy or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about our services and how we can help your child flourish and grow.