Importance of Occupational Therapy in Educaton

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Role of Occupational Therapists in Education

Occupational therapists do this by conducting assessments to identify goals, strengths and barriers to learning then recommending strategies or changes to the environment to increase participation within the school setting.


Person-centered approach

The specific interventions provided by an occupational therapist vary depending on the individual needs of the student or cohort. The areas that occupational therapists can assist with include:

Supporting students to develop fine motor and gross motor skills required to participate at school
Working with children to manage strong emotions and self-regulate effectively
Prescribing and implementing assistive technology (.e.g specialised equipment for the classroom) and environmental modifications for access around the school (eg classroom/ playground layout, ramps and rails)
Addressing sensory processing difficulties through sensory modulation techniques (e.g. activities/environmental changes to help achieve a calm state for learning)
Supporting students with additional needs to complete self-care activities (e.g. toileting) as independently as possible
Improving executive functioning skills needed to plan, focus attention, remember instructions and multitask effectively
Providing mental health therapy for students with experience of trauma, anxiety, depression and other psychological difficulties, as well as early intervention and prevention strategies to support the mental health and wellbeing of the wider cohort

School-based services can be delivered in a number of ways. Occupational therapists can:

Provide tailored one on one therapy with individual students
Deliver group therapy programs with a class or small number of students
Recommend, implement and monitor school-wide strategies and
Provide capacity building and coaching to upskill families and teaching staff to support students

Value of Occupational Therapists in Education

Occupational therapists are an integral part of learning and support teams in schools. Access to school-based occupational therapy services:

Enables vital prevention and early intervention for students experiencing psychosocial difficulties or developmental delay
Promotes social and emotional wellbeing and equips students to manage challenges effectively from a young age
Reduces strain on teachers by directly supporting students with additional needs or coaching teachers to support these students
Addresses behavioural challenges in the classroom to create a productive learning environment for all students
Supports children and young people of all abilities to achieve their goals and reach their full potential inside and outside of school

Use of the “WFOT Position Statement: Occupational Therapy Services in School-based Practice for Children and Youth (2016)” in the Australian Context

The World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT) has a position statement on the contribution of occupational therapy in supporting children and young people in school-based practice. It can be downloaded from the WFOT website here.

The WFOT position statement provides a foundation for promoting and facilitating occupational therapy services in school-based practice in Australia. The WFOT Position Statement should be read in conjunction with the below information, which contextualises the statement for use in Australia.

Use of the position statement

The intended audience for this document includes occupational therapists, education staff and leaders, parents, clients, governments, policy makers, universities and researchers.

To promote a unified, national, shared vision across Australian states and territories
To support best practice and multi-tiered service provision in school-based practice
To promote the role of occupational therapists in school-based practice
To aid collaboration between education staff and occupational therapists

The Australian Context

Australian legislation relevant to school-based services

Legislation specific to Australia includes the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Disability Standards for Education (2005). This legislation recognises each individual’s unique characteristics, interests, strengths and needs in learning and therefore requires Australian education systems to respond to diversity and enable access and opportunities for all children. In Australia, collaboration with educators is not legislated, but is recognised as best practice.

Australian education system

School-based occupational therapy is provided in government, independent, specialist and alternative settings, inclusive of childcare, preschool, primary schools and secondary schools. Differences occur across states and territories in Australia regarding eligible school ages and year levels within the schools.

Australian funding system

Funding for occupational therapy in schools varies across Australian states and territories and in accordance with different funding bodies. This statement is applicable in all funding systems where school-based occupational therapy services are provided.

Eligibility for school-based occupational therapy services

School-based occupational therapy services are relevant to all children with education support needs.

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