If you have worked as an occupational therapist in a hospital or rehabilitation center, you know how fulfilling the job can be. But switching gears and working in a school setting can bring additional rewards and benefits.
Occupational therapists are needed in public and private schools to work with children from kindergarten through high school and up to age 21. Therapists may also find employment in early intervention programs working with preschool age children.
School-based occupational therapists focus on addressing educational needs to promote students participation and performance in school. This may involve focusing on sensory and functional needs, as well as social skills. If you’re considering working in schools, learn more about the role, skills required, and many of the benefits to working with children.
What is the Role of an Occupational Therapist in Schools?
Occupational therapists are key members on a students’ education team. They contribute towards the students’ overall ability to participate in daily school activities. OTs support students’ to reach both academic and non-academic achievements by addressing the physical, cognitive, psychosocial and sensory components of performance, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association.
In addition to supporting students, OTs play a critical role in communicating with the students’ parents, educators, administrators and other key team members. By working with the students’ team, they are able to provide the collaborative environment needed to achieve optimal success. One of the largest differences between a school-based OT and clinic-based OT is the models by which they base their goals upon. In the case of a school-based OT, they are basing their education and academic performance goals as it correlates with IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). They are observed, assessed and addressed in a school setting in order to meet the needs of the students within their environment. Clinic-based OTs, on the other hand, typically assess and address a child’s needs within a hospital or clinic based setting where general life activities are focused on. In this setting, school-specific needs may not necessarily be focused on as much.
Skills Needed to be a School Based Occupational Therapist
There are certainly additional skills required from a school-based OT that differentiate this position from other OT settings. Working with students is an important role to assure they are properly equipped with the resources they need to succeed. Here are a few qualities to consider when choosing the career path of a school-based OT:
- Imaginative: It’s certainly worth keeping in mind that students may become discouraged during their treatment session so it’s important to remain imaginative to create a welcoming and accepting environment.
- Collaborative: It’s important to remain open to collaboration with your students’ team.
- Versatile: From various age ranges to deciding on which tools to utilize, OTs certainly benefit from being versatile in their practice.
- Patient: Students may react to their OT sessions differently or could even feel defeated in their route to recovery. In any case, remaining patient to keep them assured of their progress and maintaining a positive attitude will help to encourage the student during their session.
- Communicative: Keeping open communication with your students will help to offer them clarity and comfort of their progress, ultimately leading to a sense of encouragement. They should also have strong communication abilities in order to properly explain various situations and tasks. Aside from students/patients, OTs should possess strong communication skills in order to adequately explain updates to the students’ team members such as doctors, teachers and parents.
- Organized: Documentation is a crucial element in the world of OT which is why it’s so essential to possess strong organizational abilities. This is something that patients/students rely on OTs for so it’s vital that OTs are able to prioritize this as a skill.
Benefits of Being an Occupational Therapist in Schools
One benefit of working as an occupational therapist in a school setting is the variety it offers. You may work with children of different ages with a wide variety of challenges. For example, you might treat students who have attention deficit disorder, autism, cerebral palsy, and language delays. If you enjoy a career where every day may be different, working in a school setting may be a good fit.
School therapists provide individual therapy, group movement classes, homework help and more. But as a school based OT, you have the opportunity to be even more creative. For example, you might play games, get messy doing crafts or use technology to help children meet their goals. Therapists may also have to get creative to modify a child’s environment to overcome disabilities.
Occupational therapists working in schools may enjoy a collaborate environment. Therapists often work together with teachers, aides, parents and school counselors to develop and implement goals for students. Working in a team environment can be motivating for everyone involved.
Great Working Hours
One thing about working in a school setting is your working hours may be ideal. Although residential programs exist, which may require various hours, most school-based therapists work during the day with weekends off. Hospital and nursing home based occupational therapists often work weekends and evening hours. Depending on the school you work for, you may follow a traditional school calendar and have summers and holidays off.
Watching Children Meet Their Goals
Although occupational therapists in settings, such as a hospital, see their patients’ progress, they may not treat them for extended periods. OTs in a school setting may work with the same children for the entire school year or even multiple years. School-based therapists may have the chance to watch kids meet their goals, improve their skills, and exceed academic expectations.
If you decide working as a school based occupational therapist is something you’re interested in, you may be in luck. There is currently a high demand for occupational therapists in school settings. In addition to permanent positions, there are opportunities for travel assignments.
The demand for occupational therapists in schools is partly due to federal law. Federal laws indicate schools must provide education services for children with disabilities, and one of the services they provide is occupational therapy.
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