“Occupational Therapists can work in many different settings to support children with their daily tasks including in the clinic, school, at home and in the community. Occupational Therapists working in schools may see your child in their classroom or take them out of the classroom into a separate therapy space. School-based therapy offers opportunities to address various developmental needs, from handwriting and gross motor skills to social and emotional well-being within one of your child’s main environments – school. However, it is essential to understand whether school therapy will benefit your child and what is needed to support your child in their OT journey best.
School based occupational therapy can open the door to many opportunities in your child’s intervention.
Using a Familiar Environment
One of the benefits of school-based occupational therapy is that it allows children to work towards their goals in a familiar environment. Being in a familiar environment can support participation in therapy if your child requires support to adapt to new environments. It can provide children with a greater sense of comfort and security, boosting their motivation and participation in therapy sessions. Additionally, being in a familiar setting can support integrating therapeutic strategies into the child’s daily life. The OT can observe and address specific challenges within the child’s natural context, making interventions practical and applicable. This facilitates the transfer of skills from therapy sessions to the particular context. However, the school environment can be a busy and overwhelming environment. If you believe your child may benefit from a quieter and more controlled environment or might require support with transitioning between OT and classroom activities, clinic-based OT may be more suitable as the environment is more easily adapted to support your child’s needs.
Collaboration with Educators
Further, at school, the OT is able to work closely with your child and their teacher to set goals and work on practical strategies that address academic tasks, social interactions, and emotional regulation. The OT will be able to check in with teachers more frequently, collaborate to ensure strategies are effective, and provide opportunities for practising skills and strategies in their specific environment.
To ensure the success of school based occupational therapy, it is important to consider the below barriers and ways to navigate these:
Communication amongst OT and parents
It is important to consider that if your child sees an OT at school, there is less opportunity for face-to-face communication between parents and the OT. While face-to-face contact between parents and OTs may be limited in the school setting, parents play a crucial role in reinforcing therapy at home. The OT can email you updates on your child’s sessions and provide resources and strategies for home-based activities that complement school-based sessions. To best support your child, it is essential to update the OT on how your child is progressing at home, any new challenges they may be facing or any changes that would impact themselves and their goals. This will allow the therapist to tailor the intervention plan to meet the child’s needs. By communicating regularly with your child’s OT, you will best be able to support them in their therapy goals and ensure greater therapy outcomes for your child.
Suitable OT Goals for School Based Intervention
Contrary to common perceptions, not all goals in school-based OT need to be tied directly to academic tasks. While handwriting and gross motor skills are frequently addressed, the school is also a space for working on social goals, emotional regulation, and executive functioning. Like in a clinic setting, the OT will work with your child’s strengths and interests to achieve various goals. However, while the school setting is conducive to many developmental goals, it may not be suitable for specific self-care-related objectives, such as toileting-related goals. These goals rely heavily on a parent coaching model and involve face-to-face contact between parents and OTs. Hence, they are not able to be worked on at school due to the restrictions of the environment and the need for parent involvement.
Understanding the role of an OT in the school setting will support you to make the best decision regarding your child’s engagement in OT services. If you aren’t sure whether the OT would be able to work on your child’s goals at school, please speak to your OT or contact us, to guide you in determining what would best suit their needs.