What does an occupational therapist do in the school setting?
In the school system, an occupational therapist looks at how the student's "occupation" (academic performance) is being effected by fine motor, gross motor, social, sensory, visual perceptual, environmental factors and cognitive factors within the classroom. An occupational therapist uses task analysis (breaking down an activity into simple/basic steps), clinical observations, classroom observation and standardized assessments to evaluate a student. Occupational therapists can act as a consultant to teachers and other staff members in the school district. Students are often referred for an occupational therapy evaluation due to fine motor concerns, visual perceptual concerns and behavioral concerns in regard to sensory type behaviors that the classroom teacher has. Occupational therapists look at a student's muscle tone, upper extremity strength and stability, pencil grasp, ability to cross midline, bilateral motor coordination, in-hand manipulation skills, body awareness, laterality, visual motor integration, visual perceptual skills, handwriting, fine motor skills, separation of the two sides of the hand (precision and stability), etc.
Occupational therapist's can work with students who have sensory processing disorders. An occupational therapist could suggest appropriate calming or alerting activities for the student depending upon the student's needs. Occupational therapists can recommend assistive technology that would be beneficial to a student and help the student succeed within the academic environment. Assistive technology can be very simple from adapted scissors to the use of computer devices. Occupational therapists can make recommendations for the classroom environment that could make the environment more conducive students that are easily distracted or sensitive to noise. Occupational therapists also look at a student's posture and how their environment either promotes or hinders good posture. Occupational therapists can also help students develop social skills, problem solving skills and coping skills that will help them to succeed within the school environment. Occupational therapy can be provided in the classroom (push in model) or outside of the classroom (pull out model) depending upon the student's needs.