In 2007 the Australian Government injected $190 million over four years for autism-specific programs. In combination these two factors have led to the demand for occupational therapy (OT) services outstripping supply, and an influx of OTs working in the field with limited autism-specific experience.
This study, funded by the Occupational Therapists Board of Queensland, investigated OT practices, confidence and professional development needs in this field.
Focus groups comprising OT clinicians, supervisors and academics were used to explore current issues in relation to autism-specific OT services and to inform the development of a survey, which was distributed to all registered Queensland OTs.
Sixty percent of 205 survey respondents described working in this field as more challenging than other fields. While 47% of respondents felt confident or somewhat confident in this area, 23% felt under-confident or somewhat under-confident. The most challenging aspects of the work related to the complexity of the disorder (55%), managing challenging behaviour (42%) and responding to the stress of others (34%). Priorities for professional development included learning about new developments in the field (78%), clinical reasoning (50%), sensory processing (50%), behaviour support (40%), social/communication (34%) and school-related issues (30%).
This preliminary/exploratory study highlights the need for an OT specific comprehensive evidenced-informed autism-specific professional development program. A 3-day workshop and mentoring program are currently being developed to fulfil this need.
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