Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April is Occupational Therapy Month

The American Occupational Therapy Association has designated April as Occupational Therapy Month. It's a good time to look at what occupational therapy -- often called "OT" -- is and how it can help students.

OT services are designed to support individuals with the tasks they encounter in their daily lives. For adults, this can mean helping them recover from an injury or overcome a disability to manage tasks at home or in the workplace. For students, OT supports such school-based activities as handwriting, keyboarding, and adapting the school environment to promote success. An occupational therapist can help connect students with both high-tech solutions, such as computers, software, and digital tools and low-tech aids, such as writing implements with special grips and notebook paper with textured lines. Services are provided by a licensed occupational therapist, who has trained in a master's level program and passed a licensing exam.

OT is a "related service" available to students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504, provided by the school during the school day, without cost to the family. It can be a "pull out" service, where the student leaves the classroom for a period to work with the occupational therapist, usually in a small group but sometimes individually. Or it can be a "push in" service, where the therapist comes into the classroom and works with the student or students as they go about their daily activities. This is a particularly effective way of providing services, since research demonstrates that skills are better mastered when they are practiced in the environment in which they occur. The frequency and duration of these sessions need to be specified in the IEP or 504 Plan. Some families choose to work with an occupational therapist who has a private practice outside of a school.

In addition to helping students with graphomotor (handwriting) difficulties and keyboarding skills, an occupational therapist can help address such issues as the need for specialized seating in the classroom or on the bus, learning self-care (for students with significant disabilities), and practical matters such as managing a backpack or dealing with sensory issues such as intolerance for excessive noise or school bells and buzzers.

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