Occupational Therapy Program Student Theses, Dissertations and Capstones

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Occupational Therapy (Dr.OT)

Copyright Statement

All rights reserved. This publication is intended for use solely by faculty, students, and staff of Nova Southeastern University. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, now known or later developed, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author or the publisher.


College of Health Care Sciences – Occupational Therapy Department

First Advisor

Debra Misrahi

Publication Date / Copyright Date



Nova Southeastern University


Background. This capstone project brings to our attention the importance of occupational therapy’s role in meeting the continued needs of children with autism. As the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) continues to increase, so does the disparity in the accessibility of services for children and their families. Therefore, it is imperative to facilitate a diagnostic process and identify the child’s specific needs, to implement early intervention strategies. The medical model of disability, an internationally recognized approach in diagnosing children withautism, views autism as a problem that individually belongs to the child. Although the current medical model is preferred by medical professionals during the diagnostic process, children are diagnosed later in life compared to when early signs of autism are noticed.

Purpose. The purpose of this needs assessment was to explore the barriers associated with identifying children with autism, which could potentially impact children’s ability to access early interventions; and to utilize the knowledge gained to examine the potential for occupationaltherapy’s role in diagnosing autism, specifically towards advocating for early diagnosis.

Method. An Family-Centered Care system and Occupation-Centered Assessment with Children framework were used to explore the gaps in identifying autism, which impacts occupational engagement. A survey flyer was posted on open-group autism-specific Facebook forums. Using a mixed-methods design, surveys from caregivers of children with autism in Miami-Dade County were analyzed using Survey Monkey.

Results. The results of these analyzes indicated there is a delay from noticeable red flags of autism to when the child is diagnosed, caregiver dissatisfaction, and health care provider and caregiver lack of autism knowledge.

Discussion. This capstone project proposes program development to improve autism education, awareness, advocacy, and self-empowerment. Details of the problem, solutions, proposed program, and implications for the future will be presented.


Occupational Therapy


Autism Spectrum Disorder, Early identification, Early intervention, Family-centered care, Occupational engagement, Occupational therapy