What Matters to You? Occupational Therapist’s Role in School-Based Practice
“So you help people get jobs?” The dreaded question that occupational therapists (OTs) hear all too often about their role as a practitioner. To us, the word ‘occupation’ is our pride and joy, and it is often misunderstood. In occupational therapy, “occupations refer to the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families, and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life” (AOTA, 2020). Therefore, an occupation is anything that is meaningful to you, whether that is having the independence to get up each morning and get dressed or going to your local park to play tennis with your friends. Whatever occupation means to a person, it is our goal as OTs to optimize performance and function so that you can live your most fulfilling life.
So what can occupational therapists do in a school setting, you may ask. The ultimate goal of OTs in a school-based setting is to help children and youth participate in what they need to do, want to do, and are expected to do within the classroom and school environment. OT’s promote academic performance, play and leisure, social participation, self-care skills, and transition/work skills in order to maximize performance and participation in school.
For our Little Dreamers, OTs may focus on the following goals to enhance functional performance in the school environment:
- Promote independence with self-feeding
- Improve motor coordination and visual/fine motor skills to support handwriting and cutting skills
- Provide sensory supports or environmental modifications to help increase attention and participation
- Enhance sensory processing skills to support self-regulation
- Promote social and communication skills needed to fulfill a successful student role
Another important role of OTs within school-based practice is supporting students with expected life transitions. For our students with various learning disabilities and social/emotional needs, navigating through a life transition can be incredibly demanding and challenging. Two of the most common transitions that students go through are from early childhood into preschool/kindergarten, and from high school into college or the workforce. Because this may be a difficult time for our students, OTs can support students in making a smooth, successful transition. As experts in activity analysis and environmental modifications, OTs can assist students in increasing their functional independence in daily life activities that are necessary for their next stage of life.
Overall, occupational therapists play a vital role in the interdisciplinary team to support the physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and mental well-being of students. OTs never ask, “What’s the matter with you?” but rather, “What matters to you?” Discovering the most important aspects that make up our students’ identities and student roles is just the beginning of the occupational therapy process. We are so excited to provide these services so that our Dreamers can dream, reach their optimal potential, and live their lives to the fullest!
By: Melanie Kurzawa, Occupational Therapy Student (OTS) from Lewis University
Citation: American Occupational Therapy Association. (2020). Occupational therapy practice framework; Domain and process (4th ed.).