Written By Ashley Lankford, OT, Cecil County
Occupational therapists’ have a unique skill set to provide support and enhance your child’s participation in school. Their ideas can be applied at home to help with homework, self-care and other daily routines.
1. What are my child’s strengths?
Every individual, with and without disabilities, has a set of unique strengths and weaknesses. Strength and weaknesses interact together on a daily basis, impacting overall performance. At IEP meetings, it is overwhelming to hear your child’s academic weaknesses. Strengths can be utilized in therapy and the classroom to support the child in their areas of weakness. For example, a student may have weak fine motor skills and avoid writing tasks, but when the teacher allows the child to type on the computer (technology being their strength), the child is able to complete their assignments. As parents, you know your child best, so your input in determining strengths and weaknesses can support your child’s educational plan. Understanding how your child’s teachers and therapists are utilizing strengths can help with consistency when you incorporate the same strengths throughout their day.
2. If my child receives therapy services, will it be inside or outside of the classroom?
If your child qualifies for therapy services, it is up to the IEP team to determine the location of services. Occupational therapists can provide insight into the classroom set up to support your child’s performance during a specific activity. Ideally, services should be provided within the general education classroom to ensure the student: does not miss educational content, is able to participate with peers and learn the activity in the classroom. This increases the likelihood that the student will continue the activity when the therapist is not present. Services may be provided outside of the classroom in certain instances (e.g., the student is easily distracted, requires additional assistance, and requires one to one teaching). The IEP team should determine how to track if improvement in therapy is occurring inside the classroom when this occurs.
3. Do you use any specific materials to help my child perform in the classroom?
Given that these ideas can be used to support students with and without IEPs, it is common to see them implemented in the general education classroom. Students may use specific chairs or desk to support posture and may use a wiggle cushion/chair band to assist with attention. OTs may also use adaptive writing tools or adaptive paper to support needs. Parents can request support from OTs to use the same materials at home. These adapted materials can be added to the supplementary aid section of the IEP to ensure that it is used in the classroom when needed.
4. How can I help my child at home?
The OT at the school may have suggestions to carryover therapy activities at school to home. They may also have activities or games to play to address your child’s area of need. The more a skill is practiced, the greater the likelihood that the child will pick up the skill and put it into daily use. These strategies can be applied in the classroom and at home. Activities can be adapted to address OT concerns to practice during the day while learning information with his peers in the classroom and at home with siblings and/or friends. For example, a student with hand weakness can practice spelling by pinching clothespins, with letters written on them, to spell sight words.
5. How can you tell if my child is making progress?
For IEP goals, data is collected to determine progress throughout the year. Depending on the specific skill, progress can be seen as your child participates in daily routines. For example, a child with fine motor deficits may have a pencil grasp goal, but improvement may also be seen in dressing skills (buttoning, zipping clothes and tying shoes). In addition, your child’s teacher is a good resource to discuss your child’s progress in the areas of academics and life skills. If you, the teacher, or the therapist is not seeing progress, an IEP meeting should be called to adjust the therapy plan.