Many people are unaware of the different roles that an occupational therapist takes on for children in school. In the past, much of their time was spent helping students with fine motor tasks like handwriting. These days, their responsibilities have changed drastically, thanks to the increase in special needs students and demand for their special training.
Increases by the Numbers and Why
Numbers help to show the drastic increase that has been happening in schools around the country. A 30% increase is the reality over the last four years for New York City schools. That means that they are budgeting upwards of $58 million to provide services for 42,000 children. Things in Chicago are similar. Over the last three years, the Chicago occupational therapy referrals have gone up 20%. Out west, Los Angeles has had a 30% jump during the last five years.
When schools are asked to explain why there has been such a significant increase in occupational therapy, many point to the higher number of kids diagnosed with autism. Better ways to diagnose children at earlier ages means that they may require additional support and services. In addition to this, schools are trying more than ever to get all special needs students integrated in classrooms with their peers. The need to place every child into the least restrictive environment is crucial.
How Occupational Therapy is Helping
The increase in numbers has made larger school districts focus on the bigger picture. While they still allow for individual needs, many are working on more comprehensive occupational therapy programs. The strategies utilized within them assist kids with a variety of needs to work on ways to help them to stay focused in a traditional classroom. This may mean using special tactile seating for sensory needs, having fidgets around for circle time, and possibly allowing the entire class to chew gum when writing. Occupational therapists work along with classroom teachers to find ways to maximize the benefits for each child in their current environment.
Therapy sessions may focus on writing, typing, balance, and beyond. When improvements are made in these areas, many children experience better results in classrooms. They are able to stay focused, complete their academic work, and learn how to request items to help their individual sensory requirements.
With referral numbers continuing to increase, districts need to look at the needs of their current and future students. Occupational therapists should work together to propose additional modifications and long term programs that will be beneficial to all children that are referred for their services. The more planning done ahead of time, the more results will be seen within the classroom setting and beyond.