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School-Based Occupational Therapy

Children sitting at desks in a classroom

School-based occupational therapy is a type of help given to children at school to help them be more successful. Your child may be able to get this type of help if they qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

An occupational therapist (OT) will look at your child to figure out if they need help at school. The OT will watch your child in school, evaluate your child's performance, and talk with other healthcare professionals and with teachers. If the OT feels your child needs help, they will advise a plan to help your child learn, play, and interact in a more fulfilling way with other children at school.

Why your child might need occupational therapy

Studies show that occupational therapy at school is helpful for children with disabilities. This is especially true when therapy is started early in the child's life and the OTs work closely with teachers.

Here are some of the types of disabilities that can be helped:

  • Physical limitations

  • Delayed development

  • Learning disorders

  • Speech or language problems

  • Hearing or visual problems

  • Behavior or emotional problems

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is an example of a behavior disorder that may be helped by occupational therapy. According to the CDC, ADHD affects about 1 in 10 school-aged children. ADHD is recognized under IDEA. If your child has ADHD, an OT may advise special educational programs to help your child learn how to get organized and limit distractions at school.

Autism is an example of a developmental disability that can be helped by occupational therapy under IDEA. If your child has autism, an OT may create a quiet work space in the classroom. Your child's school schedule can also be changed to help make school events more predictable and less stressful.

The role of the occupational therapist

School-based OTs are state-licensed professionals with special training in child development. Occupational therapy may also be given by certified occupational therapy assistants under the guidance of OTs.

Here are some of the things they can do for your child:

  • Match your child's abilities to the tasks needed at school

  • Meet with you and your child's teachers to give recommendations and progress reports

  • Help your child get organized so he or she can get assignments done on time

  • Help your child with physical skills like handwriting and self-care

  • Make changes in your child's classroom and desk area to make learning easier

  • Use special devices and learning materials to help your child

Caregiving for special needs at home may also be part of your child's treatment plan. Your child's OT may suggest things you can do at home to help your child at school. These could include planning time for homework, making sure your child gets enough sleep, and making sure your child gets a good breakfast.

If you have a special needs child, learn as much as you can about your child's disability. Stay involved with your child's treatment plan at school. If you feel that your child's needs at school are not being met by the school, talk with the special education director for your child's school district.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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