Occupational therapists (OTs) provide direct and indirect/consultation services to students when it is required in order to implement the students' educational programs. As a related service, the goal of OT is to enable students with disabilities to be functional participants in their educational environment. Services to students, school teams, and families may include:
- Helping school teams devise strategies and adaptive aids in order to improve school performance and to include students with disabilities in school activities
- Helping teachers understand the sensorimotor aspects of school activities such as writing, eating, and handling materials, in order to address problems in those areas
- Developing activities to improve fine motor control and oral motor control for feeding or to promote sensorimotor development (body awareness, postural control, eye-hand coordination)
School OT intervention is limited to services that are required for a student to benefit from their educational program. There may be aspects of a student's disability that do not interfere with education but could be addressed by an OT in another setting.
OTs may provide consult services to school teams on behalf of a student that may include:
- Explaining how a student's medical or sensorimotor problems will affect school performance
- Suggesting modifications to school activities and the school environment
- Adapting materials for use in school
- Referring a student for an assistive technology consultation
- Recommending consultation with adapted physical education specialists
- Helping to set realistic expectations for the student's performance
- Monitoring the effectiveness of therapeutic modifications and accommodations carried out by school personnel
OT may provide services directly to students, either individually or in a group that may include:
- Exploring and monitoring seating and positioning adaptations to increase independence and participation
- in school activities. Example: extra support to allow control for writing or cutting tasks
- Exploring modifications to school activities. Example: adapting worksheets and using materials that are
- easier to handle or to control
- Exploring individualized adaptations of school materials to increase independence and school participation.
- Example: adapting feeding utensils, pencils, or scissors
- Developing a program of therapeutic activities to support a student's performance in the educational
- environment. Example: hand strengthening activities for writing, cutting, or opening containers
- Training school staff in techniques for handling, feeding, or helping a student use special equipment and
- then monitoring use of the techniques
Ongoing reassessment of the student's needs and the role of OT in addressing those needs.
To be eligible for school OT services a student must:
- Be identified as having a disability that interferes with education under the criteria of IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973;
- Have sensorimotor problems that interfere with the ability to manage classroom materials, activities, or self-care needs in school;
- Need OT intervention to become more independent or better able to participate in school activities.
School OT services are provided by licensed OTs and licensed Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs).
OTs and OTAs are part of the multidisciplinary team that plans and monitors the student's IEP or 504 plan.