Using Occupational Therapy Strategies by Adapted Physical Educators and Classroom Teachers for Preschoolers with Developmental Delays

Article excerpt

Preschoolers with developmental delays often possess a concomitant of delays impeding their abilities to learn and demonstrate age-appropriate behaviors in activities of daily living. Such delays include (but are not limited to) motor, psycho-socio, speech/language, emotional, and cognitive. Delays in the motor domain, such as in fundamental motor patterns, can correlate negatively with a preschooler's ability to learn, play, and interact with others and the environment. Gallahue and ClelandDonnelly (2003), noted fundamental motor patterns provide the infrastructure for learning activities of daily living, games, and sports. Further. a child who does not develop adequate fundamental movements may exhibit lower self-concept and social development (Gallahue & Cleland-Donnelly, 2003; Rimmer & Kelly, 1989). Preschoolers with developmental delays need motor skills acquisition to interact with the environment and to learn and perform daily living skills (Logsdon, Alleman, Straits, Belka. & Clark, 1997).

The motor domain is a major component of many preschool programs in special education (Rimmer & Kelly, 1989) and is an integral part of a preschooler's developmental growth. Further support for a motor program is highlighted in Public Law 108446 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act IDEA) (PL 108-446, 2004). IDEA mandates such motor programs for children ages 3-5 in the form of a semi-structured physical activity or movement program. The issue of providing developmentally-appropriate physical activity becomes magnified when consideration is given to preschoolers with developmental delays. To address delays in motor patterns, preschoolers should be provided with a movement program permitting exploration and guided discovery spiraling learning concepts with teacher interaction when needed (Murata & Maeda, 2002: Wessel & Zittel, 1995). Collaboration with related services, if needed, (Neal Bigby, & Nicholson, 2004) should be integrated within a movement program. Perhaps the ideal would be to hire adapted physical education specialists who are trained and qualified to provide and implement developmentally-appropriate programs. Yet, it is highly unlikely preschool programs will hire a specialist to teach physical education skills, despite the relative importance of gross and fine motor skill acquisition in connection to how preschoolers learn (Avery, 1994).

Although preschool classroom teachers are responsible for implementing a developmentally-appropriate motor program, they often have little to no knowledge and skills related to motor development or in teaching to the motor domain. Consequently, preschool classroom teachers seek assistance from various resources with whom to collaborate, like adapted physical educators and related services personnel such as physical therapists (PT) and occupational therapists (OT) in developing and implementing appropriate motor programs. Being that the motor domain is viewed as a vital component in a child's overall educational milieu, and listed under a direct service in the definition of special education, adapted physical educators are in a prime position to facilitate, consult, and assist in the development of such preschool motor programs.

For each child who qualifies for a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), physical education, specifically designed if necessary, must be made available in the least restrictive environment (IDEA, 2004). While educational reform has supported more of an inclusive learning environment, more-often-than-not related services (e.g., physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy) personnel often employ a pull-out procedure whereby a preschooler with developmental delays is taken from the classroom and provided therapy in isolation. While this might be a common and acceptable conduit for service delivery, shortages of trained and qualified personnel (direct service providers and related service providers) exist, and duplication of equipment for multiple environments for children with similar educational needs makes it difficult to provide adequate service delivery (Barnes, Schonefeld, & Pierson, 1997). …