What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy (OT) is very useful to special needs children in a school environment. It's important to know that students with special needs don't always suffer from physical disabilities. There are other areas of medical problems such as learning difficulties, behavioral problems, and mental health issues.
If a student suffers from behavioral issues, such as anger problems, an occupational therapist might work with that student in hopes of finding ways for that student to release their anger. For example, if the student hits or throws things when they are angry, the therapist might suggest a stress ball to squeeze in order to release the anger. Another option would be to figure out a hobby that the student enjoys, such as running or writing, and encourage the student to do something positive when anger strikes.
Occupational therapists help special needs children learn how to function independently. Not only do they promote self-esteem and value, but they also work with developing cognitive, motor, and physical skills.
One of the related services that a child with special needs might qualify for is occupational therapy (OT). OT is a type of treatment that concentrates on helping a student achieve independence in all areas of his life--cognitive, physical, and motor skills, while building self-esteem. OT providers also address psychological, environmental and social factors that may interfere with a child's ability to perform important learning and school related activities.
As with any related service, a child must first be classified under one of the recognized disabilities. Based on information gathered for the Present Level of Educational Performance (PLEP) for the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), the Committee on Special Education (CSE) can recommend an OT evaluation. Based on the results of the evaluation, services can be recommended and added to the IEP. A script needs to be obtained by the child's family physician in order to start OT services.
It is not a given that every physically disabled student will receive OT. Typically, students in the following categories will qualify for OT: autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, pervasive developmental disorders, sensory processing disorder, and traumatic brain injury.
The OT provider supports both academic and non-academic goals. Academic goals might include writing, study skills or keyboarding, whereas non-academic goals might include self-help skills or prevocational skills. Services can be provided within the general education setting or as a pull-out. OT can be provided as a group and/or individual session.
For many students, OT focuses on strengthening fine motor skills, such as writing, keyboarding, using scissors, buttoning, and holding utensils. OT providers typically use activities that seem like play, but are actually targeting areas of need. Kids usually enjoy going to OT and talk about the fun that they had!
Examples of needs that OT might focus on, but isn't limited to, include:
- motor planning and coordination
- sensory processing
- assistive technology
- grasping, sorting
- manipulation of classroom tools or materials
- eating or drinking independently
- buttoning, lacing and buckling
- spatial orientation
To work effectively, there needs to be a collaborative effort. Quite often OT providers will train teachers and parents on how to work with the child on a particular goal, so that there is carryover in different settings. For example, if the child is using a rubber pencil gripper as a tool to learn how to hold his pencil correctly, then the pencil gripper needs to be used in all settings. OT providers can also help teachers modify lesson plans to reinforce an OT goal.
If the CSE deems OT to be necessary for a special needs child, then the district is responsible for lining up services. Some districts hire their own OT providers, while others contract out to a hospital or BOCES for a provider. As with any related service, the need for OT needs to be evaluated and discussed at least once a year at a CSE meeting. By providing OT services as early as possible, it is hopefully that a child will have better success later in life.