Occupational Therapy for Students with Special Needs
Under IDEA, students with special needs between the ages of three and 22 may be eligible to receive occupational therapy as a provision of the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). These services may also be available as part of a 504 plan or an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP).
Occupational therapy for a student with special needs must be designed to promote specific educational goals. It is discrete from physical therapy (PT), but a student may receive both services at the same time, and there may be overlapping goals for occupational and physical therapy. An occupational therapy intervention must be designed by an occupational therapist (OT) and provided by an OT or by staff who have been trained by an OT.
What Is Occupational Therapy for a Student with Special Needs?
Occupational therapy in an educational environment focuses on functional outcomes, and it includes various intervention strategies and supports. Occupational therapy is provided as a related service, and to the maximum extent possible, these services must be provided in a setting alongside children who are not disabled.
IDEA includes provisions for educationally relevant occupational therapy to assist students with a recognized disability, allowing the child to access and benefit from the program to achieve IEP goals that support the role of being a student.
Areas of concern that fall under the domain of occupational therapy include:
- Self-help skills
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Sensory processing
- Social abilities
- Visual motor and perception
- Task completion
Gross motor skills include:
- Rolling over
Fine motor skills include:
- Grasping objects
- Cutting with scissors
How Is Need Identified for Occupational Therapy?
The need for occupational therapy may be identified through the IEP or a 504 plan. Children ages three and older may also receive occupational therapy as part of an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) as covered by IDEA.
A referral to an OT for appraisal will be made when a student is not able to participate in the educational curriculum at the expected level of ability, and previous modifications and accommodations have not been effective. If parents obtain an outside evaluation at their own expense, the results must be considered by the public agency if they meet agency criteria under FAPE.
Determining the need for occupational therapy begins during an evaluation process with the IEP team or 504 plan team. Assessment must be completed by a licensed OT, not a physical therapist or an Adaptive Physical Education (APE) teacher. Occupational therapy shall not be used for medical or rehabilitation reasons.
What Is Included in an Occupational Therapy Intervention?
The OT will determine the frequency, methodology, and intensity of the occupational therapy intervention, which should be based on purposeful goals and directed activities that improve a student’s functional performance during the school day. The occupational therapy intervention will be assessed within an educational setting using a comprehensive approach.
The OT will collaborate with staff, students, and parents to modify activities and environments. Occupational therapy goals include living an independent and satisfying lifestyle, finding competitive employment, and increasing educational opportunities.
Only a licensed OT may provide therapy. School staff will carry out recommended activities following training by OT. Occupational therapy interventions may include:
- Individual treatment
- Small group treatment
- Student monitoring
- Environmental adaptations
Is Your Child with Disabilities Getting the Services They Deserve?
Parents of children with disabilities have the right to request a written plan that spells out how the school will provide services to ensure equal access to education. If your child isn’t receiving the support they require, contact a lawyer at Woodsmall Law Group today.
Our attorneys serve children with special needs and their parents in Los Angeles County, focusing on the San Gabriel Valley. We have been helping families make the most out of their educational opportunities for over 18 years.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s placement or the services they are receiving, please call (626) 440-0028 to schedule a FREE initial consultation. We speak English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Polish, and Spanish.