Abstract

Importance: Understanding occupational therapy practice patterns for adolescents who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) provides a baseline to determine areas of need and effective interventions.

Objective: To identify puberty-related challenges addressed and interventions used by occupational therapy practitioners with adolescents ages 8–16 yr with ASD.

Design: A nonexperimental survey design with a stratified random sample was used.

Setting: The Occupational Therapy–Autism and Puberty Survey was distributed in the United States online through the Qualtrics platform (available October 2017–January 2018).

Participants: Occupational therapists (89%) or occupational therapy assistants with experience with adolescents who have ASD were included. The 71 eligible respondents were primarily White women with an average 16 yr of experience.

Outcomes and Measures: Nine key challenges and 11 interventions regarding puberty and ASD were identified. Hypotheses were generated before data collection.

Results: More practitioners (>47%) addressed emotional regulation and personal hygiene, and fewer (<26%) addressed menstruation, safety, and masturbation. Nearly all practitioners (>92%) reported using social learning approaches and behavioral strategies, and most (>80%) reporting having received education in these interventions. Significant differences were found between reported education and use of behavioral skills training incorporating applied behavioral analysis (p < .001), parent training (p = .002), and technology (p = .003).

Conclusions and Relevance: Practitioners are neglecting to address puberty-specific challenges with adolescents who have ASD. Opportunities exist to expand the interventions used and challenges addressed by occupational therapy practitioners for adolescents with ASD.

What This Article Adds: This article expands occupational therapy literature by giving a baseline understanding of the puberty-related challenges that practitioners are addressing with adolescents who have ASD. This information can assist the profession in developing effective interventions and educational opportunities to allow practitioners to successfully address puberty-specific challenges.

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