The Occupational Therapy Fairy

ot fairy

My son’s autism diagnosis shocked me less than his proposed therapy schedule. The clinicians proclaimed that he needed 25-35 hours of therapy. Without it, they said, he may not have the tools to be mainstreamed in school.

I struggled with this mightily.

Specialists came to our home and saw him at an early intervention center.  He is not the child you see, I explained. Liev was sweet, playful, and bright.  He only ran around maniacally because everything was so new.  Sympathetic smiles and pity faces were stock responses.

Let me emphasize–I don’t begrudge the efforts of the regional autism center.  Several staff members, however,  left me feeling patronized and disbelieved.

For two years I absorbed book after book about autism therapy—A.B.A., Floortime, DIR, and RDI.  All of these treatments had one thing in common–they sort of work, sometimes.

Ultimately, when Liev was in a teachable place—he learned.  When Liev was disorganized, these  interventions failed.

Visits from Liev’s early intervention Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) unnerved us. She tried to engage my son with new toys and over-the-top enthusiasm. He scurried away from her at every opportunity. Another specialist launched a power struggle with him over throwing toys.  As if you could discipline an overwhelmed toddler!

Our final therapist turned treatment around.  Her son had Asperger’s.  Introducing us to a strength-based approach, she empowered our entire family.  Our services evolved into supportive and constructive plans. Confidence in our parenting returned.

The trend of playing to Liev’s strengths quadrupled in preschool, under Ms. Jerri’s watchful eye.   Her team’s high-quality attention, structure and visual supports brought us order and coping skills. Liev thrived. I thrived too!  I had a team of professionals dispensing sound advice.

Ms. Jerri introduced us to Occupational Therapy (OT).

WebMD’s definition of OT goals explains it best:

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve his or her quality of life. This includes life at home and at school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills. That way, people with autism can be as independent as possible.

OT is one of my top three parenting tools (the other two being written plans and hugs). Without fail, these three have helped us through many difficult days.  OT strategies are our first line of action.


Because Liev’s biggest obstacle to learning is his anxiety level. Too much stress or excitement whips him into an obsessive, impatient frenzy. He is too overwhelmed to function, let alone learn.

Our school OT, Ms. Wetherbee, keeps Liev grounded and focused in class. He can’t process vital social stories or work toward goals until his anxiety is tamed. Her interventions build awareness and give him control.

Ms. Wetherbee compares her work to soothing an infant:

“You have calming strategies for when an infant is crying and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  You can try a strategy that didn’t work earlier–sometimes it will work later.  Sometimes something stops working and then you try it again months later, and it works.  Just keep trying!”

This simplifies her work greatly, but the core of her intervention is anxiety management. This is exactly what our whole family needs! The best thing I have learned about OT is how diverse and fun the approach is.

I have plenty of tricks to share with you (coming soon!).  Her strategies are concrete (yay!) and dissipate anxiety.

Until then, please enjoy the collage Liev and I put together of Ms. Wetherbee and her magic OT tools!

23 thoughts on “The Occupational Therapy Fairy

  1. This is wonderful. I really look forward to reading the progress. Have had issues with professionals that were supposed to help that didn’t because they didn’t “get it”. Glad you found some that do! 🙂

    1. Our therapy did get off to a rough start, but now I can’t believe our good fortune. Having seen both sides, I want to spread the word about good services. Education is the key.Most people really want to do a good job, but don’t know how.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. I love, love, love your fairy! You are so talented. Yes—it’s all about decreasing anxiety, being motivated, and having examples of exceptable behavior. Well said. Great post, as always. 🙂 Are you in our facebook group? I’m having trouble connecting names to blogs. If you are, you can laugh at me now. Hugs.

    1. Thanks Sam! I didn’t draw her, she’s a collage item. I love making little pictures for my posts. It’s as fun as writing! 🙂

      I think I’m in your group. I’ve beena bit out of the loop–I’m taking T on a little Easter trip while Papa has a staycation. I’ll drop you a like on your personal FB. If I’m not in your group, I’d love to be! 🙂

    1. Hear, hear!

      I am so lucky! The entire team is marvelous. If more proffesionals understood ASD and what help adults and children, a good deal of fear and stigma could be conquered.

  3. I love the collage!

    Many things you share here sound much like our experiences. With all three of my guys when they are on they are on, and we are able to accomplish amazing amounts of work and progress, but if they are over stimulated, full of anxiety, overloaded, it does not work. I do not push them when they are like that, but when they raring to go we go full force! 🙂

    Our first therapy was OT and Speech-Language Pathologist. We were so blessed to get the OT that we did. We had to start therapy five days a week, had we not lost our insurance coverage we would have continued that longer, but we had to go to three days, then two gradually all of our resources ran out completely.

    The OT worked with me the entire time, she gave me resources, I asked her everything I could and asked her to please help me so I could do it at home. If it wasn’t for her I am not sure I would have felt able to help Daniel, but she encouraged me and helped me so much. I ended up taking on the therapy myself, reading everything I could and incorporating it into our daily school schedule. She even gave me her personal number so I could call and ask her questions if I needed to. She and Daniel connected right away. That whole experience was one of the most positive one I have had through this journey with Daniel. The other was our pediatrician here, if it wasn’t for her we would have had to go through all kinds of leaps and bounds for Daniel’s diagnosis.

    It makes such a huge difference and impact to have the right people working with you and your child. I am so happy that you have such wonderful support! Part of the reason for our move is that I am aware that Daniel needs more help, he is transitioning into an age where he needs more social skills and broader experiences. We are just unable to get that in this area. The town is too small, and we are too far away from groups and other resources. I can’t wait to see what you have to share. I most assuredly will benefit.

    “Her strategies are concrete (yay!) and dissipate anxiety.” I need her for me! 🙂

  4. I love this image! I hope you give a printed copy to your OT! I am slowly falling in love with our OT – I really wish I had her when I was younger.

    Great job fighting through the wrong team members to get to the right ones!

    1. I hear you! My entire life would have been much easier and less confusing. I never realized the depth of difficulties I had with regulation until I saw them reflected in my son. I am glad you have a good OT, mine is golden! 🙂

  5. Wonderful story. I’m an OT and I work with some children that have autism. Your story made me smile.

    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Grant! I love to share what works for us and express how happy I am with my son’s team!

      I appreciate you dropping by! 🙂

  6. I agree about anxiety managment. At home we practice a cognitive therapy called “recovery” to manage anxiety and stress. It’s hugely helpful. I used it in my 20’s and applied it to my parenting naturally because I use it all the time to manage domestic trivialities. You can learn more at

    It is free and has been around since the 1930’s. It teaches emotional self-leadership. A neuropsychiatrist from Chicago pioneered the method. My son is in mainstream classes and I credit this effort to manage his anxiety as what made that possible. My son has aspberger’s. I think everyone would benefit from anxiety management, my son requires it but when you apply those principles to everyone it feels good.

    Some things we talk about all the time are “being group minded” which means learning to fit in with the group. Taking a “total viewpoint’ which means considering someone else’s perspective and “taking things in part acts”, “tolerating discomfort” etc. Having a language to ascribe to the anxiety helps manage symptoms/tics and promote independence.

    Thanks for your blog, I learned so much from reading this thread and your posts, but most importantly I do not feel alone.

    1. Wow! I’ll be sure to check this out. Anything that helps to manage anxiety (sort of two fistfuls of meds!) is a wonderful resource.

      I like the idea of using a common language to define and explore anxiety. My Dad always says, “naming the demon is half the battle.”

      I am so happy that my blog is helpful to you. I am so lucky to be connected with the world online. Comments and suggestions make my day.

      Thank you!

  7. Please please please please please please provide me links to all your efforts that have worked for your son’s anxiety! I cannot wait to hear all about it. We’re not far from an Asperger’s diagnosis and I’m wanting to learn learn learn learn and learn x /selkie

    1. I just checked in on my blog. My mom has been in the hospital for two weeks (she’s fine now!) and I’ve been preoccupied and I still might be hit or miss. Nevertheless, I will put together some resources and tips for you and try to post them in the next day or so. Until then, I highly recommend this book: Asperger Syndrome And Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions For Tantrums, Rage, And Meltdowns by Brenda Smith Myles. Anxiety causes meltdowns and this book is something we have used faithfully for years. It’s excellent for all kids who get overwhelmed by anxiety. I’ll be thinking of you both! <3


      1. I’m really sorry to hear about your mum and wish her a speedy recovery. Good to hear she’s fine now. I’d aooreciate any efforts when you’ve time, space and energy. Thank you fit the book recommendation /selkie

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