The Role of the Occupational Therapist in Schools
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational Therapy is a health service that is concerned with an individual’s ability to participate in desired purposeful activity or “occupations”, which give one’s life meaning. If a person’s ability to perform these daily life tasks, which includes caring for one’s self or others, working, going to school, playing, learning and living independently is impacted by an illness, disease and/or disability, occupational therapy can be important.
What are the Qualifications of an Occupational Therapist?
Occupational Therapists hold baccalaureate, post-baccalaureate or master’s degrees and must be registered with their Provincial College of Occupational Therapy. Occupational Therapists must complete supervised clinical internships in a variety of health and educational settings and must pass a national certification examination in order to practice.
Occupational Therapy education includes the study of human growth and development grounded in medical, biological, behavioural and social sciences with specific emphasis on the social, emotional and physiological implications of illness, injury and disability.
Occupational Therapy Services in the School/Educational Setting:
The Occupational Therapist is responsible for:
- assessment, planning and goal development
- for providing appropriate accommodations or interventions designed to enhance the student’s potential for learning
- to assist the student in acquiring those functional performance skills needed to participate in and benefit from the educational environment
- to help the student function independently
Responsibilities of an Occupational Therapist:
- allows the Occupational Therapist to identify those students who need further evaluation
- should be appropriate to the chronological, educational and/or functional level of the student
- evaluates the student’s educationally related needs toward identifying and creating goals and accommodations or interventions that may also be included in the student’s IEP
- areas of evaluation may include: gross motor skills;fine motor skills; sensorimotor skills and performance;visual-motor and perceptual skill performance; independent physical daily living skills; environmental/ therapeutic adaptions; adaptive behavioural responses
- to help re-evaluate the student’s progress and/or current needs and re-establish goals, accommodations and/or interventions.
- communicate assessment results with the educational team, parents, student, and with other appropriate professionals and agencies
- attend in-school meetings and/or team conferences as appropriate
- provide regular communication with parents about intervention changes either in writing or by phone
- provide follow-up regarding the student on a regular and agreed upon schedule with the educational team
- provide written communication about changes or additions to agreed upon program accommodations and/or interventions
- refers to appropriate professionals, agencies or programs as appropriate
- plan and develop therapeutic goals, accommodations and/or interventions that are educationally relevant and will be functionally used in the student’s educational programs
- determine if indirect or direct intervention services by an occupational therapist is required (direct intervention services may be provided by another agency)
- assess for eligibility criteria for equipment funded through the Assistive Devices Program (MOHLTC)
- may refer to other community agencies, programs when appropriate
- in some cases, consultation to follow-up on designed programs that will be carried out by the educational team is required
- the Occupational Therapist will review the existing program and interventions, help design or change further these interventions and/or accommodations in conjunction with input from the educational team
- arrange for follow-up on an agreed upon timetable
- facilitate and/or participate in in-service educational programs that benefits the educational staff or system
How Do I Contact an Occupational Therapist?
There may be a specific track that you must follow in your particular school or board in order to access Occupational Therapy Services. The following seem to be the most common venues. Please check with your own school to see if this differs.
a. Where is no occupational therapist in your board:
- contact the SERT about a particular student, stating why you would like an Occupational Therapist (OT) to see the child
- the SERT, vice-principal or principal then contacts the parent to make them aware of the potential referral, which allows them to disclose basic information about the child
- referral made to the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), School Health Support Services Program and they arrange for disclosure of information
- if the child meets the criteria for eligibility into the program, CCAC then arranges for an Occupational Therapist to come into the school to do an evaluation, shares the results and set up a program
b. Where there is an occupational therapist employed by your board:
- contact the SERT about your concerns about a particular child
- the SERT or the teacher contacts the parents to explain why they would like the Occupational Therapist to see the child
- parents are asked to sign a Consent to Access the OSR so the therapist can review relevant information in the OSR, speak to pertinent educational staff working with the student, screen and/or evaluate the student, share the results and set up a program (therapists in some school boards only provide consultation while others may provide direct intervention and/or consultation)
- if the therapist only provides consultation and in his/her professional opinion, based on his/her evaluation feels the child would benefit from more direct intervention, the therapist may then contact the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) to arrange for a therapist to treat the child at the school
- parents would sign a form to release information to the CCAC so the therapist can make the referral and share her findings with the therapist, the OT employed by the Board of Ed. will continue to communicate with the teacher and the CCAC therapist to co-ordinate information and program suggestions