Beyond Paper & Ink: Relating to the Related Service of Occupational Therapy

Article excerpt

Today, thanks to evolving special education legislation (see definition box: IDEIA, page 42), as well as increased knowledge relative to student learning profiles or the unique learning strengths and challenges of a child, there is a broad range of free and appropriate public education (FAPE) programs available to our students with special needs through their Individualized Education Plans (IEP). A broad range of related service providers including physical therapists and occupational therapists, are at hand to offer consultive and therapeutic services for students who demonstrate such need. Parents and educators are encouraged to communicate on a regular basis with related service providers so that accommodations and practices can be maintained throughout the child's day, to the extent possible, within various settings. Through collaborating or working together, knowledge from parents, educators, and specialized service providers is merged. The connectivity between home and school serves to increase understanding of a student's strengths and needs and, thereby, increases intensity, duration, and the likelihood of generalization of skills across the various spheres of life the child encounters.

Although physical therapists (P.T.) are relatively well-known players in the medical and educational realm, occupational therapists (O.T.) are less well known. Often, people confuse occupational therapists with physical therapists. Some assume that occupational therapists assist people in choosing a career or occupation. In fact, O.T.s assist people with the "job of living," according to Pattie Overduin, sole occupational therapist within Snowline Joint Unified School District in Southern California. Overduin's straightforward account of the purpose of an occupational therapist correlates well with that of the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). According to the BLS, "Occupational therapists use specialized knowledge to help individuals perform daily living skills and achieve maximum independence."

Overduin, graduate of Loma Linda University, is a school-based therapist who made the switch from clinically-based O.T. in the 1990s. She expresses concern relative to the shrinking occurrence of children playing outside and exploring their environments on foot. Such outdoor activities serve to promote development of visual processing through visual scanning of distant objects and development and strengthening of gross motor skills. Overduin shares that O.T.s are active in all areas of life from pediatrics to geriatrics. A perusal of The American Occupational Therapy Association web site (www.aota.org), a national association Established in 1917 to represent interests and concerns of practitioners and students of occupational therapy and to improve the quality of O.T. services, offers articles ranging from Alzheimer's to autism.

Whereas occupational therapists in clinical settings work as part of a health care team with individuals from infancy to elderhood in connection to functionality in relation to living in environment through utilization of their adaptive equipment, such as the absence of or a non-functioning limb, wheelchairs, or other adaptive devices to assist with furthering independency or activity within their home or work environment, the occupational therapist within the educational setting evaluates students with disabilities and assists with modifying classroom equipment and helps students participate in school activities (BLS, 2008-09). Within the school setting, O.T.s are considered a related service, in relation to special education. O.T. services are attached and related to a child's existing IEP. Recommendation for O.T. evaluation is linked to educationally relevant outcomes, progress on goals and the child's functional academic tasks required within the classroom. Upon referral to an occupational therapist, the O.T. will evaluate the child's capabilities, determine therapy needs, modify classroom equipment, or help the child participate in school activities (BLS, 2008-09). …