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Occupational Therapy in
School occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants are key contributors within the education team. They support a student’s ability to participate in desired daily school activities or “occupations.” They help children to fulfill their role as students by supporting their academic achievement and promoting positive behaviors necessary for learning. School occupational therapists (and occupational therapy assistants, under the supervision of the occupational therapist) support academic and non-academic outcomes, including social skills, math, reading and writing (i.e., literacy), behavior management, recess, participation in sports, self-help skills, prevocational/ vocational participation, transportation, and more. Because of their expertise in activity and environmental analysis, practitioners are particularly skilled in facilitating student access to curricular and extracurricular activities. They focus on the students’ strengths, and can design and implement programming to improve inclusion and accessibility. Additionally, they play a critical role in educating parents, educators, administrators and other staff members. They offer services along a continuum of prevention, promotion, and interventions and serve individual students, groups of students, whole classrooms, and whole school initiatives. They collaborate within the education team to support student success. In this way, occupational therapy practitioners can contribute within both general and special education.
Occupational therapy practitioners help to promote healthy school climates that are conducive to learning. They offer other valuable services to meet broader student behavioral and learning needs, along with systemic needs, by addressing students’ mental health and participating in other school-wide initiatives such as positive behavior supports, response to intervention (RtI), and Early Intervening activities. In addition, occupational therapy practitioners are active participants in developing curriculums and programs; addressing school health and safety; identifying assessment accommodations and modifications; and developing violence prevention, anti-bullying, and other types of programs. In this capacity, occupational therapy practitioners support the needs of all students, including those without disabilities. For example, many schools use the occupational therapist’s knowledge and expertise to assist in curriculum development for handwriting and social skills, or to recommend modifications to or design of classroom environments or assignments that help all students access and participate in school (i.e., implementing universal design for learning).
American Occupational Therapy Association, American Physical Therapy Association, & American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2014). Workload approach: A paradigm shift for positive impact on student outcomes. Retrieved from http://www.aota.org/-/ media/Corporate/Files/Practice/Children/APTA-ASHA-AOTA-Joint-Doc-Workload-Approach-Schools-2014.pdf
Cohn, E. S., & Lew, C. (2010). Occupational therapy’s perspective on the use of environments and contexts to support health and participation in occupations. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64(Suppl.), S57–S69. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ ajot.2010.64S57
Frolek Clark, G., & Chandler, B. (2014). Best practices for occupational therapy in schools. Bethesda, MD: AOTA Press.