You’ve probably interacted with your school’s Occupational Therapist at some point. Maybe you’re even friendly with them. But be honest—do you *really* know what they do?
If not—it’s totally fine! As an educator, you sometimes feel you’re expected to be an expert on EVERYTHING. And that’s just not realistic.
After all—you already wear enough hats as it is to be an expert on the scope of practice of every single educational professional you cross paths with.
Plus—Occupational Therapy is an odd title for a profession. What does it even mean? And why are Occupational Therapists in the school system working with students, anyway? It’s not as if these kids have jobs!
Well, actually—they do. The job of your students is to learn. And that’s one of the most important jobs there is, right?!
Trust me—Occupational Therapists (aka OTs) are used to explaining what they do. Most people don’t have a full awareness of the scope of services OTs are trained to provide.
A big part of this stems from the fact that their title is pretty confusing and oddly specific. If you took a poll, a majority of OTs would probably vote to change it. Just like Speech and Language Pathologists, all the things OTs are actually trained to do doesn’t exactly fit well on a name tag.
An OT friend of mine used to explain it like this—”If you think about it, we all have jobs. It’s just that sometimes our ‘occupation’ is completing our activities of daily living.”
These activities of daily living (or ADLs as they’re often abbreviated) are the true purview of an Occupational Therapist. They include common daily tasks like—
Brushing your teeth
Combing your hair
Bathing or showering
Tying your shoes
In a nutshell—it’s the job of an OT to help people plan for and perform all of these daily activities safely, effectively, and independently.
In the school system, your Occupational Therapist can help kids with these important skills. They can also assess and treat any issues and obstacles that may impact a student’s ability to learn and participate in a full and complete educational experience.
Let’s take a closer look at all the ways your school’s Occupational Therapist can help your students who may be struggling with some of these skills. This way, you can help to identify kids who may benefit from their services, and assist in educating parents in all the ways an OT can be of service to their child.
How do Occupational Therapists help children in the school setting?
Now that we’ve brushed up on some of the areas OTs are trained to focus on, in general—let’s talk about how OTs can help the students in your school. You may be surprised to learn about all your school’s OT has to offer!
For starters, occupational therapists in the school system are trained to assess and treat kids who struggle with their fine motor skills development, coordination, and mastery.
In particular, students with conditions such as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) stand to benefit from OT services in the school, as this neurodevelopmental issue can impact a child’s abilities to learn, play, and coordinate the motor skills used in a typical school day.
School-based Occupational Therapists can also help students who are experiencing difficulties with their—
Ability to use items like scissors
Shoe tying skills
Ability to manipulate clothing items like snaps, buttons, and zippers
Also within the purview of your school’s OT is the realm of adaptive equipment and assistive devices. This includes items like modified eating utensils, pencil grips, adaptive scissors and art supplies, and positioning aids.
The adaptive and assistive devices and strategies your OT selects will be based on each individual student’s needs. In some cases, OTs even create personalized devices and supports to meet the unique needs of specific students.
We love watching OTs get creative in how they can bridge the gap between what a student is able to do and what they need to do, using appropriate supports and modifications.
OTs will also work with you to provide assistance to students with assistive technology and adaptive equipment needs. They can even assist you in making any necessary modifications to the classroom in order to support these students to have the most inclusive educational experience they can.
Something you may not know about school-based OTs is that they’re also qualified to work with students with needs related to emotional regulation and sensory modification skills.
These are often the lesser known skills in an OT’s wheelhouse—but they’re crucially important to the students who need assistance in these areas.
Occupational Therapists can work with children to improve their awareness, acceptance, and regulation of their emotional states. Some children struggle with their ability to self-regulate their emotions, which can lead to impairments in their ability to participate in the school setting, as well as disruptions to the learning environment, as a whole.
OT intervention in this area can help children improve their emotional recognition and self-regulation skills—and this can lead to improved concentration, sharing, and even turn-taking skills. And that can enhance the culture of your entire classroom, as well as the educational experience of an individual student!
OTs are also skilled at helping students who struggle with their sensory modulation skills.
Students who are overly responsive to sensory stimuli may be hesitant to try new activities and movements. They may be bothered by things like a tag on their shirt or the feel of a new item of clothing. They may gag when eating or present as a very picky eater. These children experience an exaggerated response in their nervous systems to common, everyday stimuli.
In contrast, students who are under-responsive to sensory stimuli may be difficult for you to engage in classroom activities. They may appear to be daydreaming and unfocused during the school day. You might also notice these students have reduced endurance, compared to their classmates. This is due to these children’s nervous systems experiencing a reduced (or lack of) response to sensory inputs.
Other students may present with sensory seeking behaviors—requiring constant, intense sensory input and stimulation. These are the kiddos who never stop moving—they may fidget or be constantly moving. These children often feel compelled to touch everything they encounter and may even bump into things. They can often be impulsive, and may not realize when they’re being too rough with their peers.
All of these issues can negatively impact your classroom environment and present serious obstacles to the learning experience of the student experiencing them.
Your OT can help these students enhance their ability to manage sensory inputs, throughout the school day.
At The Loop, our OTs are skilled at assessing and treating children’s issues with sensory processing. They create fun and engaging activities for children with sensory issues, with the goal of helping them regulate their nervous system in response to sensory input.
To target these skills, your school’s OT will likely work to treat children one-on-one in a controlled setting, as well as in your classroom. This way, they can make sure the skills they’re targeting are relevant and able to generalize. They will also likely involve you in treatment, so you know what skills are being addressed and how you can help these students carryover what they’re working on in therapy.
Your school’s therapists rely on you to help us make a real difference in the lives of the students who need us!
How can educators and Occupational Therapists work together to help students in need?
One crucially important thing educators can do to help your students receive the extra support and assistance they need is simply to reach out! Your school’s therapy team depends on educators like you to help us catch students who may be experiencing issues—before they slip through the proverbial crack in the system.
Just like you—we can’t be everywhere at once. And we know you often notice issues in your students well before anyone else does. In many cases, educators may pick up on students who are struggling before their own parents do.
That’s why we need you on our team to help identify students who can benefit from our services. Even if we assess a student and determine they don’t qualify for further treatment—we believe it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
As an educational professional, you’re well aware that catching and addressing issues in your students as early as possible is vitally important in the outcomes we can achieve. Our modern educational system moves fast—so identifying and treating students who need therapeutic intervention needs to keep up with this pace!
Occupational Therapists in the schools also love partnering with educators like you to provide holistic therapy that targets the real world needs of the students we serve. Your OT can share information with you, train you in any strategies they’re using, and work with you to make any modifications to the classroom to ensure all your students thrive.
Here at The Loop, our highly skilled Occupational Therapists love working with you to help as many students as we can have the educational experience they deserve.
We’re always here to listen if you have any concerns or questions. After all—we all got into these professions to help children succeed and to reach their full potential! And making sure all your students can achieve this goal truly takes a village. So don’t hesitate to reach out to your friendly neighborhood OT if we can help you in any way!
You can check out our full website for lots of great info and fun, free materials! Follow us on social media to keep up with all the current happenings @TheLoopSLL (or just click your fav SM icon below). Or shoot us an email with any questions you may have at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. By the way, did you know The Loop has lots to offer in addition to our stellar Occupational Therapy services? We’ve also got an awesome team of Speech and Language Pathologists—ready to help you out! Plus, we offer a wide array of learning support services, including—learning remediation, executive function coaching, and educational consultancy and advocacy. So, how can we help you?