How ABA Therapy and Occupational Therapy Can Work Together to Help Children with Autism

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Young boy on a swing in either occupational therapy or aba therapy
Published:  April 10, 2024

When it comes to supporting children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), parents often find themselves exploring various therapeutic options. Two prominent methodologies, occupational therapy (OT) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, stand out for their potential to enhance the lives of these children. While both aim to enhance the lives of individuals on the spectrum, they differ significantly in their approaches, philosophies, and techniques. 

Professionals Communicating To Ease the Burden on Families

Parents often experience significant stress and anxiety associated with the challenge of understanding what ABA therapy and/or occupational therapy is best for their child. That is a challenge that is better left to their trusted therapy professionals. Working together, these professionals will develop a plan to create better outcomes.

ABA therapy and occupational therapy professionals can and should communicate and synergize to provide a holistic approach to supporting individuals with autism. While ABA therapy targets specific behaviors and social skills through structured interventions, occupational therapy focuses on enhancing daily living skills, sensory integration, and motor function. When these two disciplines collaborate, therapists can create tailored interventions that address both behavioral goals and underlying sensory and motor challenges. 

For instance, occupational therapists may provide sensory integration activities to regulate sensory processing issues, complementing ABA therapy sessions aimed at teaching social skills. By working together, therapists can ensure that individuals with autism receive comprehensive support that extends beyond therapy sessions.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy for children with autism is a specialized healthcare profession dedicated to helping them participate in meaningful activities of daily life. These activities encompass everything from self-care routines to playtime and school tasks. Occupational therapists work closely with children to improve their physical, cognitive, sensory, and emotional skills, encouraging independence and enriching their quality of life.

What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a scientific approach that applies principles of learning theory to modify behaviors of social significance. ABA focuses on identifying and analyzing observable behaviors, breaking them down into smaller components, and systematically applying interventions to reinforce desired behaviors while reducing challenging ones. ABA interventions are highly individualized, data-driven, and aim to improve various skills, including communication, socialization, and adaptive behaviors.

Understanding How These Two Proven Approaches Differ and Complement One Another

From fostering independence and life skills to addressing behavioral challenges, discover the unique strengths and considerations of each therapy in supporting individuals on the autism spectrum.


Occupational therapy emphasizes holistic development, addressing sensory, motor, and cognitive aspects of functioning to enhance overall independence and quality of life. It views individuals within the context of their environment, aiming to optimize engagement in activities.

On the other hand, ABA therapy adopts a behaviorist approach, targeting specific behaviors for modification through systematic analysis and reinforcement. It emphasizes observable, measurable changes in behavior, focusing on skill acquisition and behavior reduction through structured interventions.

Target Patients

Occupational therapy serves a broad spectrum of individuals across various ages and conditions, including autism, developmental delays, physical disabilities, and mental health disorders. Its versatility allows for interventions tailored to specific needs, promoting participation in daily activities and social inclusion.

ABA therapy primarily targets individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but can also benefit those with other developmental disabilities or behavioral challenges. It is particularly effective in addressing core deficits of autism, such as communication difficulties, social skills deficits, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests.

Methods and Techniques

Occupational therapy employs a range of therapeutic modalities, including sensory integration therapy, motor skills training, cognitive-behavioral techniques, and environmental modifications. Interventions focus on improving sensory processing, fine and gross motor skills, self-regulation, executive functioning, and social participation.

ABA therapy utilizes evidence-based strategies such as discrete trial training (DTT), naturalistic teaching strategies (e.g., pivotal response training), verbal behavior therapy, and behavior management techniques (e.g., reinforcement schedules). Interventions are structured, repetitive, and systematically implemented to teach new skills, shape behaviors, and reduce problem behaviors.

Experience the Benefits of ABA Therapy at Wellspring Learning Centers

Whether your child needs targeted behavior modification, skill acquisition support, or comprehensive intervention, Wellspring Learning Centers for ABA therapy in Nashville is here to support you every step of the way. With a focus on evidence-based practices, data-driven decision-making, and family-centered care, we strive to empower every individual to reach their full potential. Contact us today to learn more and schedule an appointment.

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