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Occupational Therapy in Schools: Basket Weaving or Something More?

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

Before all the occupational therapists in the audience fall off their chairs in horror, yes of course, school-based occupational therapy is more than just basket weaving! OT can support students with physical disabilities with positioning, task planning, assessment, intervention and goal setting.

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    Who or What is an Occupational Therapist?

    Again, OT's in the audience - hop back onto your chairs and relax for a moment!

    For the teachers, support staff, aides and parents, an OT (occupational therapist) is a trained professional person who works with clients from a range of groups, including children, adults, people with disabilities and older people. In a school context, they will often be employed to assess, treat and support children with disabilities, including physical disabilities as well as other areas of need such as children with autism.

    The official definition comes to us from the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (http://www.wfot.org/):

    "Occupational therapy is a profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by enabling people to do things that will enhance their ability to participate or by modifying the environment to better support participation."

    In a school context, an OT will often work as part of a multi disciplinary team to support individual students. They may work alongside teachers, aides, physiotherapists and psychologists to help achieve optimum student outcomes.

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    Working with an Occupational Therapist

    As a teacher, it can feel a little daunting to have an OT as part of the team of people supporting a child. It can be helpful to think of the OT as just that - a support who is there for the student. In the case of a child with a physical disability, the OT can provide you with many strategies and suggestions to help you do your own job as best you can. They can help with:

    • back safety and manual handling tips - designed to help you stay safe when assisting a student to move or transfer from one place to another
    • assessment - providing information about exactly where a student is at developmentally and what you can expect to achieve in a given time frame
    • intervention - suggestions for approaches that might work well in the classroom and which can help the student meet various goals and manage difficulties
    • aides and equipment - OT's are a goldmine of information when it comes to all those tricky little gadgets and gizmos that can make a world of difference to the day to day functioning of a student, if only you knew how they worked! When in doubt - ask an OT for advice!
    • planning and goal setting - an OT is a useful professional to have in your corner when it comes time to plan and set goals for students. They will have a realistic understanding of what an individual student is likely to achieve, and the best tools, aides and strategies which will be required to get to their desired goals. Often OTs will be able to attend planning and goal setting meetings as part of their role.
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    Prioritizing

    In a school context, the question of priorities is often closely linked to funding and costs. It is important to remember that when it comes to school-based occupational therapy, the cost of the intervention and support is likely to be well justified in terms of outcomes for students with special needs who have specific and vital care needs.