Within each classroom in a school environment, there is usually a range of children with mixed abilities. Some children may need extra help in certain areas, some may have disorders and others may need guidance in developing new skills. Occupational therapy (OT) could be your answer to many of the struggles your child faces. One of the ways occupational therapy is used in schools is through OT therapists collaborating with teachers and providing relevant training for the right approach to helping children with disabilities. In addition, they also promote environmental adaptations around the school and can work one-to-one with your child to support them in their schoolwork, learn new life skills, and assist them in transition periods throughout everyday life.
Why Is Occupational Therapy Used in School Settings?
Occupational therapy is commonly used in school settings to provide intervention for struggling learners. Through school-based occupational therapy, students can fully access and be successful in their learning environments. When occupational therapy is used in a school setting it ensures easy access for your child to receive the therapy he needs to succeed in his learning. Instead of driving your child to appointments after school, you can now send your child to school secure with the knowledge that he will receive the therapy he needs.
Furthermore, occupational therapists who work with your child will be on board with the school curriculum and will collaborate with the class teacher to facilitate your child’s skills and abilities with the expectations of the demands of the curriculum. The main advantage of occupational therapy in school is that the therapist can support your child on how to manage himself within the classroom environment to promote his learning. Lastly, when occupational therapy is done in your child’s natural environment, he is more likely to gain tremendously, and you are more likely to see positive results at a greater speed.
How Does Occupational Therapy Benefit Children In Classrooms?
Sensory Processing Issues:
Many children who struggle with sensory challenges benefit from occupational therapy in classrooms throughout the day. Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that affects how the brain processes information. Therefore, children with SPD may be extra sensitive or not react to sensory input such as light, sound, taste, or touch. These children, therefore, gain from sensory diets, where the therapist identifies the student’s needs and strengths and based on her results will implement different tools, specialized seating, weighted lap pads/ vests, calming scents, fidget tools, or chewing tools to help your child synthesize information and progress.
Occupational therapy in classrooms also helps with coordination difficulties. Coordination difficulties are an impairment in the development of motor coordination and can significantly interfere with your child’s academic achievements and daily living activities. Occupational therapists working in the classroom can identify which area your child needs help in either bilateral (using both sides of the body equally) or hand-eye coordination and work with your child to develop their coordination skills in activities such as handwriting tasks, use of the computer or participation in sports activities.
Visual perception activities
Visual perception skills are what a child uses to make sense of what he sees around him. The eyes send visual information to the brain and the brain needs to interpret the information it receives and make sense of it. An occupational therapist would first analyze which component affects your child most in completing his occupation then she would offer a range of treatments to address the underlying issues. This may include adapting to the environment and providing resorptive therapy through partaking in games and activities that engage your child’s visual perception skills. Within a classroom setting the therapist can teach your child to understand shapes, recognize objects and use books to show how the alphabet comes in different fonts and utilize. Therapists will help your child develop an awareness of position in space, spatial relationships, and visual closure,
Activities for Fine and Gross Motor Skills
For children who have difficulties using their hands, fingers, and forearm properly, occupational therapists in the classroom can teach your child simple exercises so that he will learn how to hold a pen/pencil with a pincer grip. In addition, the occupational therapist will be able to teach your child how to safely hold scissors to cut properly in the comfort of his classroom environment. An occupational therapist can teach your child the motor skills he lacks and eventually eradicates the problem.
Examples of Occupational Therapy In Schools
Case study 1:
Josh is a lively child who finds it hard to concentrate during class. You will often find him chewing his sleeve, becoming overstimulated when too much information is sent his way or having a meltdown at the slightest change of timetable. His teacher, desperate to help Josh asked for an occupational therapist to come and assess Josh in his familiar surroundings in the classroom. The therapist found Josh to have hypersensitivity. This means he has increased sensitivity to sensory output.
The occupational therapist started coming once a week to Josh’s class to do sensory integration exercises with him so that he would be able to interact with his environment more successfully. She did a group session with the whole class in order to not single Josh out and introduced lave lamps which help children adjust to intermittent light. Next, during activity time, she would introduce different colors through toys and games. When the class became too noisy, and she could sense Josh was getting agitated she gave him headphones which helped drown out the noise. Lastly, to help Josh stop chewing on his clothes, the therapist gave him a fidget toy to help keep his hands busy and distract him from the chewing. After a few months of coming into class, there were notable improvements in Josh’s behavior.
Case study 2:
Sarah was having trouble in class during craft time. It was decided that an occupational therapist would sit with her to assess in what area she was struggling. The therapist found that Sarah would hold the pencil so hard it sometimes broke. This was because Sarah did not know how much pressure to apply to the pencil. Furthermore, when using scissors to cut around a shape Sarah would cut outside the line as her hand-eye coordination was poor and she struggled with the direction of cutting. Lastly, her spatial awareness was poor and she found it hard to cut neatly on the line.
The occupational therapist started coming into class during activity time and put a grip on the pencil so that Sarah would hold the pencil in the right position. Next, the therapist would practice drawing lines and different patterns until Sarah became comfortable with holding the pencil correctly. Following that progress, the therapist brought in specialized scissors to strengthen her weak muscles. Sarah practiced cutting, and this greatly improved her cutting technique.
To conclude, occupational therapy in a school setting is beneficial for many children. When therapy is done within a child’s familiar his progress is quicker and you have a much more willing participant to join in the therapist’s activities as your child feels he is doing the same activities as the other children and doesn’t feel singled out. The Therapy Place is a key resource for occupational therapy, whether it’s in-home, in-school, or in-clinic. Sign up for The Therapy Place’s email newsletter to get more information, tips, and at-home exercises for your children.
Reviewed by: Leah Gross OTR/L