Occupational Therapy, and the power of play

Many times throughout the school year, the question of “just what does an OT do?” will come up in a meeting or discussion. Many different answers are available, and each is unique, just as each occupational therapist is unique in their own way. By no means all encompassing, we thought we would give you a quick snap shot of an ESU 5 OT.

An Occupational Therapist works with individuals in the school and home settings, ranging from birth to 21 years of age.

We assess and work with students to address their physical, psychological, and social/emotional needs through play-based, meaningful activities. An occupational therapist will look at multiple areas of function in these settings, including fine motor, visual motor, visual perceptual, and sensory processing skills. Through play-based activities and programs, we work to assist learners and their parent achieve success in area that they may need assistance.

If a child is referred, the occupational therapist will assess the child’s performance using standardized tests and therapist-based observation. The child’s performance on these areas is then analyzed using age-based norms, functional milestones, and grade-based norms. If any aspect of their daily educational life is being negatively affected by a deficit in one or more of these areas, a plan is then established for intervention, through an IFSP, IEP, or 504 plan.

Now, this is when the fun starts…

A child’s occupation, or job, is essentially learning through play. Even at the earliest stages of life, a child is developing ideas, thoughts, motor skills, and likes/dislikes through the daily activities they are engaged in. It is the job of the occupational therapist to ensure proper development in these areas. In the birth to three-year age setting, an OT may work with the child and their parent to develop visual skills, motor skills, balance, coordination, and even eating skills. Intervention at this level is provided in the home or daycare setting, as to ensure appropriate activities with the surroundings, as well as engaging the caretakers with the tasks and activities.

In the school-based setting (preschool through high school), the therapist is analyzing and assisting the student in educationally based tasks, to ensure appropriate progression of physical, psychological, and social/emotional skills. Standardized tests, as well as therapist observation and educator/parent observation are all utilized to assess the student’s visual motor, fine motor, motor planning, sensory processing, and visual perceptual skills. If it is determined the student would be eligible through the testing, the OT will then develop goals and objectives for progression in the areas of difficulties. Occupational therapists pride themselves in utilizing any and all games, activities, tasks, etc. to aide in the progression of skills. If an activity or task is enjoyable for a student, there will be a higher rate of participation and carryover long term with the student. Occupational therapists will adjust, or “grade” activities to ensure the student is being challenged by the task, hence building skills in that area, while still having an enjoyable time.

Written By: Justin Johnson

I am so grateful that the ESU had so many specialists to work with my son, because now I know what to do to help my child with autism. The speech pathologist and occupational therapist from the ESU have allowed him to gain more than I ever expected him to. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
The best part of working at ESU 5 is the people I work with!
ESU 5 Staff Member
ESU 5 is a wonderful place to work! My co-workers are helpful, friendly and supportive.
ESU 5 Staff Member