Occupational Therapy Outcome Measures in Preschool Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Scoping Review



Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that affects a child’s social communication, behavior, and sensory processing. It can manifest in a wide range of ways, and children with ASD may experience challenges in areas like self-care, play, and social interaction. Thankfully, occupational therapy (OT) has emerged as a valuable intervention strategy to help preschool-aged children with ASD navigate these everyday activities.


However, measuring the effectiveness of OT interventions requires reliable outcome measures. These are tools that occupational therapists use to assess a child’s progress and determine if the intervention is making a positive impact. A recent scoping review published in April 2024 titled “Occupational Therapy Outcome Measures in Preschool Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Scoping Review” sheds light on the current landscape of outcome measures used in this field.


Delving into the Research


The researchers behind this scoping review embarked on a comprehensive search of scientific databases to identify studies focused on OT interventions for preschoolers with ASD. Particularly, they were interested in studies that reported on the specific outcome measures used to gauge the effectiveness of these interventions.


After meticulously analyzing the data from these studies, the researchers aimed to achieve two key objectives:

  1. Identifying the most prevalent outcome measures employed in OT interventions for preschoolers with ASD. This would provide insights into the current practices used by occupational therapists.
  2. Evaluating how well these outcome measures align with the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) framework. The ICF framework serves as a standardized approach to assessing a person’s functioning across various domains: body functions and structures, activities and participation, and environmental factors.


Key Findings: A Look at Commonly Used Outcome Measures


The study brought to light 74 distinct outcome measures used in OT interventions for preschoolers with ASD. Here are some of the most frequently employed measures:

  • Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM): This tool assesses a child’s self-perceived performance in everyday activities and helps identify areas where they may need support.
  • Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, Second Edition (VABS-II): This standardized measure evaluates a child’s adaptive behavior skills across various domains, including communication, socialization, and daily living skills.
  • Parenting Stress Index–Short Form (PSI-SF): As the name suggests, this measure assesses the stress levels experienced by parents or caregivers of children with ASD.


Interestingly, the researchers observed a trend where the majority of outcome measures placed emphasis on a child’s body functions and their capacity to perform activities. There was a relative scarcity of measures that comprehensively assessed environmental factors influencing a child’s participation in everyday routines.


Why Environmental Factors Matter


This finding highlights a significant consideration in measuring the effectiveness of OT interventions for preschoolers with ASD. A child’s environment plays a critical role in shaping their ability to perform activities. For instance, a child with ASD might find it challenging to complete self-care tasks like dressing or toileting if their home environment is cluttered or overwhelming. On the other hand, they might be able to perform these tasks independently in a more structured and organized setting.


Therefore, incorporating environmental factors into outcome measures becomes crucial. This allows occupational therapists to gain a more holistic understanding of how their interventions are impacting a child’s ability to function and participate meaningfully in their daily lives.


The Road Ahead: Embracing a Holistic Approach


This scoping review offers valuable insights into the current state of outcome measures used in OT interventions for preschoolers with ASD. While there is a variety of outcome measures available, there is a need for more comprehensive measures that encompass all aspects of a child’s functioning, as outlined by the ICF framework.


By adopting a more holistic approach to outcome measurement, occupational therapists can ensure they are providing interventions that truly target a child’s needs and empower them to thrive in their environment. This paves the way for improved participation in everyday activities, leading to a better quality of life for both the child and their family.




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