As a Babysitter that has worked for decades, nearly 4 decades, I am amazed, and a little bewildered about all of the Autism that is being diagnosed, and the frequency of Occupational Therapy that children are needing. When I'm confused about something I start to research what I don't understand.
I feel that, unless there are severe symptoms, there shouldn't be a diagnosis of autism OR if symptoms aren't severe then we all have some form of autism, and autism is the norm for all of us. I have a nephew with autism and yes, he struggles emotionally, has ADD, has sensory disorder, anxiety, etc. He has been one of those children that will test your patience, and struggles to understand exactly what behaviours are appropriate in social situations, etc. BUT, I think, and I have to make sure it is understood that this is my opinion and ONLY my opinion, and my opinion isn't based on anything other then what I've personally experienced with children, and the small amount of information I've looked into; I think that there is a rash of diagnoses of autism that are given to simply difficult children that have been given full reign of the household; children who won't do what they are asked, throw fits because they don't want to do something, fight any time a consequence is administered doesn't make them autistic. It makes them children who need parenting. Once children start school, difficult behavior appears because they can't control the school community like they do in their own home. This is a problem for the children who truly are autistic like my nephew because it waters down the true meaning of autism, makes it seem trendy or a fad. Autism is not a fad, it is serious and should be taken seriously BUT, and this is a big BUT; it shouldn't be a diagnosis used to excuse children for bad behavior, and parents who don't want to parent and just give in to their children.
I would say about 25% of the kids I babysit, or the children my agency has the pleasure of working with, have some sort of "autism" and they go to occupational therapy, take drugs or both. When did this happen, and why? Is it technology, over diagnoses, lack of discipline, overcrowding of classrooms, violent games, no structure at home; or a combination? I see parents taking their kids in to pediatricians if the child doesn't like the feel of sand, is shy, doesn't like the feel of certain textures. All I can say is; just because a child has a preference that other children don't share or you think they should have doesn't make them autistic or even on the spectrum. It may just mean they are shy, don't like chocolate, the feel of sand or chalk on a chalkboard or, heaven forbid, they don't like big groups of people because people or kids in mass is chaos.
I understand that we love our children and every generation wants their children to have a better childhood then their own, but; ask yourselves; is the removal of all discipline the answer, and could it be what is leading our children to OT and diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder or something similar? All the trendy parenting books we read like the don't tell our children "no" technique or use distraction instead of setting boundaries make no sense (again just opinion) are setting our children up for failure and will not give them a realistic view of life in the world. I'm going to tell you when a cop pulls me over because I'm speeding he sure has heck isn't going to distract me with a glass of wine while he writes me a ticket, and because I was set boundaries I'm not going to throw a fit or race away. I made a bad choice and then I suffered the consequences! The word no, and discipline are great boundary indicators. By telling our children "no" we are teaching them when it is appropriate to say no to others, and to give them permission to say "no" or set boundaries for themselves when it is necessary for them to protect themselves. The reason I bring this up is; my personal belief that discipline has become a dirty word, and distraction etc have become the norm. I don't condone physically striking a child but telling them "no", taking away favorite toys, time-outs etc are good things to do. They are difficult to follow through on because your child will not be happy about it; just like I'm not happy about when I might get a parking ticket. If I were a parent I would much rather discipline my child then have them diagnosed with some form of autism and put them on medication because I didn't teach them boundaries, how to follow instructions, say no or discipline them, and then once they get into school they have anxiety, social and or eating issues etc. Then, it is off to OT and possibly drugs....REMEMBER this is just my OPINION.
I recommend watching Frontline: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/medicatedchild/ this piece is heartbreaking, and I wouldn't miss it if I were a parent
Read some articles: https://www.healthline.com/health/autism-tests, understand what developmental disabilities are.
Also spend time with your children. The best Occupational Therapist is you the parent. Talking to your children and empathizing with them by remembering your struggles and setbacks as a child is freeing for you and them. Remembering when you didn't like having your fingers dirty, didn't like the texture of liver (I still don't like the texture of liver), instead of jumping to the conclusion that your child has a disorder have empathy for them. They probably don't have a disorder. They just need you to guide them, set boundaries for them, talk to them, laugh with them, and enjoy being around them whole heartedly. By doing this you will be able to tell if your child really needs to see a doctor or if you and your child can come up with solutions yourselves, and yes that might include discipline. Autism is real there is no doubt about, but I personally believe, that parenting and being fully present with your child could be a better treatment for your child then rushing them off to OT or a Pediatrician because they're having some difficulty in school or their behavior. Autism is a very serious diagnosis and there are a lot of gradients to it but just because a child has a hard time focusing doesn't automatically make them ADD.
Enjoy your children while you can. No matter how busy you are. Their success is in your hands not a OT or a doctors; yours.