How do Occupational Therapists Help Students
Many people do not think of students when they think of individuals in need of an occupational therapist; however, occupational therapists can greatly help students. Learn about the different ways occupational therapists help students.
How Occupational Therapists Help Students Adapt to Their Environments
While many people know how occupational therapists help people recover from injuries, it is important for parents to understand that an OT also provides services for children with disabilities. As stated by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupational therapists have an essential role in a student’s life by helping them navigate the challenges caused by their disability and participate in everyday school procedures with success. An occupational therapist can also offer academic and behavioral support, and depending on the student’s needs, an OT could be very involved in the student’s daily school schedule.
What is Occupational Therapy?
An occupational therapy practitioner can help someone learn how to navigate their disability and gain independence. Occupational therapy can be used to treat any combination of physical, sensory, psychological or cognitive disabilities a student deals with. Along with their experience with different disabilities, occupational therapists are familiar with psychological, social and environmental factors that affect daily functioning for someone with any given disability and age. By helping your child adjust to these aspects of their life, their occupational therapist is boosting their self-esteem and giving them a sense of accomplishment for every obstacle they overcome. An OT also adjusts to whatever level the child operates at already, so that no matter what age or stage of development your child is in, they can be challenged. This gives the OT a frame of reference and allows them to start setting goals for the child so they can achieve at a developmentally appropriate level.
Occupational therapy can easily be confused with physical therapy because both forms of treatment aim to “improve kids’ quality of life,” but physical therapy aims to relieve pain and strengthen someone’s body, while occupational therapy helps someone work on fine motor skills and cognition. Physical therapy was appropriately named, as its primary function is to make the body work properly. Occupational therapy is moreso rooted in a person’s cognitive functioning. The brain is a part of the body, so aspects like fine motor skills, sensory-processing and visual-perceptual skills link one’s physical health to OT; however, occupational therapy only requires whatever physical output someone needs to complete their own everyday tasks.
Who Benefits from Occupational Therapy?
People begin occupational therapy for a number of conditions or cognitive deficits, but the practice can be summarized as a treatment that helps people gain skills for completing everyday tasks independently. Some of these skills help us attain our basic needs. Other skills might just be for our wants, but either way, nobody’s disability should keep them from living the kind of life they desire. Occupational therapy helps people with learning deficits and cognitive disabilities catch up to the expected developmental level so they can live equitable lives.
OT has very broad applications, but it is usually recommended for several health problems children face. Some of these medical conditions include:
- Sensory Processing Disorders
- Learning Disabilities
- Developmental Delays
- Traumatic Injuries (to the brain or spinal cord)
- Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Mental Health Problems
- Behavior Problems
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Cerebral Palsy
- Various Chronic Illnesses
The Goals and Outcomes of Occupational Therapy
Some of the specific skills that an occupational therapist helps students learn include fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and daily life skills. An occupational therapist’s treatment plan depends on the student’s individual needs. If they have diagnoses like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or autism that affect fine motor skills, an occupational therapy practitioner would work on handwriting with the student or even helping them learn how to grasp objects like toys, depending on the severity of their condition. Several cases of learning disabilities affecting different thinking processes also have been known to diminish people’s handwriting capabilities. The Child Mind Institute labels practice with an OT as “rewiring the brain.” Repeated practice of the skills the child needs to acquire helps condition the brain to recognize and react to stimulus appropriately.
In some cases, an occupational therapist could work on hand-eye coordination skills with the child. With help from the OT, your child can work on skills that would enable them to participate in sports like baseball, basketball and karate. Some hand-eye skills are applicable to the classroom too, like the ability to write faster but legibly while reading notes off the board in class. Every child has a different level of need depending on what they’ve been diagnosed with, so occupational therapists also offer support for learning basic life skills. Because of a disability, things most people take for granted, like getting dressed, brushing your teeth and feeding yourself, can be seemingly impossible. An occupational therapist can help pinpoint the barriers keeping your child from succeeding at something and offer an alternate path for achieving the child’s goal while keeping their strengths and weaknesses in mind.
Occupational Therapy in Schools
Some occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants work exclusively in a school setting. Because so many students struggle with some type of disability, and because there is such a wide range of these disabilities, schools hire occupational therapy practitioners to support their needs and help them participate in school academically and socially. Articles like this one help outline some of an OT’s duties and different things an OT would look for in an evaluation. A student’s occupation is a balance of learning and playing, so it is the OT’s job to ensure that each student can be fulfilled this way. Occupational therapy can also give students a head start on their next occupation in life. Older students working with an OT can plan for their transition into the working world, so they can feel comfortable about their lives after school too. Occupational therapy works on whatever level is needed. Whether it be literacy, trouble with a specific subject, academics in general, behavioral problems, lacking social skills or any other problem getting in the way of a child’s education, occupational therapists are trained to handle it.
Occupational therapists work together with teachers to write developmentally appropriate curriculums for different children with disabilities. They implement programs to include their students in the school community and advocate for necessary accommodations around the school so that each of their students is free to participate.
How an OT Uses an IEP
To be more specific about an occupational therapist’s role in a student’s curriculum, they are part of an Independent Education Plan (IEP) team if they evaluate the student and determine them eligible for OT services, and if the school psychologist determines the student eligible for special education services. After intervention from an OT is deemed necessary, they become a member of an IEP team. This team consists of any teacher, staff member and specialist involved in the student’s education. Through benchmark assessments, classwork and in-class observations, IEP teams reassess students’ needs periodically, with the minimum requirement being one IEP each school year for each student in special education.
While teachers and other team members go about planning their student’s next academic schedule, it is an occupational therapist’s duty to monitor the environments the student will need to be in and provide support so the student can achieve their goals. This means ensuring that the student receives appropriate accommodations in and outside of class as needed, has modified lessons to fit their learning needs and any other type of goal they hope to achieve in school. For more information, the AOTA has a brochure outlining the steps for a school to implement occupational therapy into their program and what to expect going forward.
Despite the fact that students in special education are generally the only ones given access to occupational therapy, there are exceptions to the rule. Even when a child’s disability does not qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), there are other laws that might help in these other situations. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act each offer solutions for children without an IEP, so they can have access to the treatment they need.
Occupational Therapy Resources at Aspire Educational Services
Aspire ES provides independent contractors that can manage your school’s staffing needs and keep administrators focused on the students and day-to-day operations. The school saves more money hiring one contractor than consistently hiring individual employees whenever the need arises. The team at Aspire will make sure the school always has sufficient staff to accommodate all of your students’ needs, and all of our candidates for jobs at any level receive training before starting at your school. This way, none of your current employees will lose time training new co-workers, and our candidate will be able to make an immediate impact. Call our offices at 267-388-0670 or view our services to find out more about how we can help your school.