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From: AOTA Occupational Therapy in School Settings Fact Sheet
Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants are part of the education team within a school district. The profession of occupational therapy is concerned with a person’s ability to participate in desired daily life activities or “occupations.” In the schools, occupational therapy practitioners use their unique expertise to help children to prepare for and perform important learning and school-related activities and to fulfill their role as students. In this setting, occupational therapists (and occupational therapy assistants, under the supervision of the occupational therapist) support academic and non-academic outcomes, including social skills, math, reading and writing (i.e., literacy), behavior management, recess, participation in sports, self-help skills, prevocational/vocational participation, and more, for children and students with disabilities, 3 to 21 years of age. Practitioners are particularly skilled in facilitating student access to curricular and extracurricular activities through supports, designing and planning, and other methods. Additionally, they play a critical role in training parents, other staff members, and caregivers regarding educating students with diverse learning needs.
Occupational therapy practitioners have specific knowledge and expertise to appropriately address student needs. Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants know how to:
- observe a student engaging in an activity and provide strategies to facilitate the student’s full participation;
- reduce barriers that limit student participation within the school environment;
- use assistive technology to support student success;
- support the needs of students with significant challenges, such as by helping to determine methods for alternate assessment;
- help identify long-term goals for appropriate post-school outcomes;
- help plan relevant instructional activities for ongoing implementation in the classroom; and
- assist students in preparing for successful transition into appropriate post–high school employment, independent living, and/or further education.
Occupational therapy practitioners collaborate with the education team to address student needs. They work with a variety of people such as:
- students to improve their performance in a variety of learning environments (e.g., playgrounds, classrooms, lunchrooms, bathrooms) and optimize their performance with adaptations/accommodations;
- parents to help them support their children’s learning and participation in school;
- educators and other school support staff to plan and develop activities and environments that include all students;
- paraeducators to support child success and promote safety within the school environment (e.g., physical and behavioral assistance needs); and
- administrators to provide training for students, staff, and parents, as well as to recommend equipment for schools and ways to modify existing buildings and curriculum to allow access for all.