Step into any early elementary classroom, and you will likely see children who would benefit from occupational therapy. Most of them would not likely qualify for the service, but many could use it within their day. The problem in many districts is that students who technically do not qualify for services now may later require even more intense therapy. Fine motor skills that may seem slightly delayed could eventually snowball. Once a child is older, it is may take more time to work on skills to do them properly. In addition to this, it is difficult to pull an older child out of class for an occupational therapy session.
To assist with this complication, some schools are working on occupational therapy integration. An occupational therapist goes into a classroom and works with students. This individual will watch to see if children are using the proper grasp on a pencil. Do they need more practice to help fine motor movement for better writing? In addition to this, many teachers note that students come to school without the ability to use scissors. This skill involves a lot of muscles and time. Having another adult in the room to work on these while teaching continues is less disruptive for all. While some students may not require OT time, they often pick up skills within small groups to assist them.
Traditionally, pulling a student out of class time for an occupational therapy may mean drills and exercises to work on fine motor skills. While this is beneficial, seeing students in real time during class will change up how therapists may address their needs. An occupational therapist may note that their student does well with small written assignments. However, when the writing task is longer, they shut down and do not want to do their work. If they are in the classroom, they may help the child to break it down and take it sentence by sentence until the work is complete. This will allow the child to build their confidence and complete work.
Schools and districts should look at the needs of their students. If there are not enough therapists to work with all children, this may help to get additional children the support they need. Talk with classroom teachers to see how they would utilize such a program, and come up with plans to make scheduling work. The cost of this may help budgets, and the fact that more children will get assistance earlier on will save districts in the end.