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Friday, 31 January 2014

What do occupational therapists really do?

In its goal to provide children with the best possible start, Alberta Education provides access to early intervention programs in an inclusive school setting to children in a variety of age groups. This forward-thinking approach allows students in programs across the province to receive the services of speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists, as well as a variety of other professionals. Specifically, Occupational Therapy (OT) can be useful in assisting children with a wide range of abilities in improving their motor, cognitive, and independence skills.

Three Things OTs do in Schools:

1.  Occupational Therapists work on a wide variety of skills in a classroom.
Many members of the public aren’t familiar with the day to day tasks an occupational therapist can work on in a classroom. While the focus of some therapies can be on foundational skills like fine and gross motor skills, a therapist can also focus on other areas of concern like dressing, toileting, and sensory processing concerns.

2.  Occupational Therapists work collaboratively with a team of other professionals.
In the multidisciplinary model employed by many school districts, an array of professionals provide services in the classroom. With assistance from speech and language pathologists, behaviour specialists, psychologists and more, occupational therapists help provide a comprehensive view of the child’s skills. The team also assists the children as well as their parents and teachers in understanding the child’s strengths and areas of future growth.

3.  Occupational Therapy focuses on the child’s needs and interests first.
When working with children within the classroom, an occupational therapist will direct therapy goals and interventions to suit the individual. Whether it’s building an activity around a particular skill the child can improve or designing an engaging task that draws on his or her interests, the therapist ensures the child is engaged and having fun throughout the process.

Three Myths about OT in Schools:

Myth #1: Occupational Therapists solely work with children with disabilities.

Reality: Children with a variety of physical and cognitive abilities can benefit from occupational therapy services in the classroom. While the therapist may focus a greater number of individualized supports for children diagnosed with a particular physical, cognitive, or developmental condition, OT’s are also able to work with the class as a whole by focusing on a particular skill area.

Myth #2:  Children will grow out of these issues and learn them anyhow.

Reality: Although children will continue to develop in many skill areas as they mature, a good foundation for future school success begins early. Poor motor skills or sensory dysregulation can impede a child’s learning, leading to decreased success in current and future academics. Early intervention in these areas and more is key in promoting proper development and increasing a child’s skill level across many areas.

Myth #3:  Occupational therapists only provide 1:1 therapy with kids in isolation from the classroom.

Reality: Using an inclusive model, occupational therapists work within the classroom setting, often with multiple children at once. The therapist is able to pull in children of all skill levels to help provide positive peer models, increasing confidence in adept students. This approach also allows those who are improving to view their classmates as leaders and build positive relationships. Including the teacher in the process is vital, as a collaborative approach will ensure all children’s needs are met throughout the school year.

RĂ©al Chenard works as an Occupational Therapist for Edmonton Catholic School District, working mainly with pre-kinder and kindergarten students. He holds a BSc Spec. (Psychology) and an MSc (Occupational Therapy) from the University of Alberta and has been working in his field for almost 2 years. While in graduate school, he was the President of the Rehabilitation Medicine Students Association.

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