What information can I give to the Occupational Therapist at my 3-year-old’s school?
Occupational therapy services are to be provided at school when the child's needs (as assessed by the OT) are deemed to be keeping the child from learning. So, for example, the occupational therapist may find it necessary to work individually with the child in improving fine motor skills so that the child can complete handwriting activities. The occupational therapist may also recommend that the services be provided to the child on a consultant basis - by coaching the teacher or para-professional and not necessarily by working directly with the child.
An area that is more confusing, is the one of providing individual occupational therapy services to assist the child in attending, in staying modulated, and/or in offering what is called a 'sensory diet'. In many school systems, these services are not deemed necessary to the direct learning process and are therefore not included in the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) as services to be provided by the OT. Sometimes, other school systems have the occupational therapist work out of the "assistive technology" group only as a consultant and they may present observations, assessments, and recommendations to be implemented by the teacher in the classroom. Very few school systems will let the occupational therapist be involved in activities of daily living, helping in the evaluation and goal implementation of goals such as: independent dressing skills, independent feeding, and independent toileting. In the case of children that have other issues, such as visual impairments or behavioral issues, the OT is not expected to bring their expertise in these areas to be included in the educational plan.
My suggestion is that the family meet with the person in charge of the special education department and review the role of the occupational therapist in the school. In many cases, I have served as a 'second opinion' person, clarifying roles and assisting the OT in the case to expand on their role for the benefit of the child. If this family has a private OT, they may want to have him/her meet with the school OT to join efforts towards developing the best intervention plan for the child.
MC/ TK 7-13-10
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