Occupational Therapy In School - What Does an Occupational Therapist Do in a School?

  • Occupational Therapy is defined as the planning and utilization of a program of purposeful activities to develop, restore or maintain skills used in everyday living.  The Occupational Therapist and the Certified Occupational Therapist are concerned with the sensory, motor, cognitive and behavioral functioning which underlie purposeful interaction with the environment.


    Within the educational setting, Occupational Therapy is designed to improve the physical and mental performance of the student in educationally related activities.  It focuses on the development of a student’s functional abilities in daily life tasks through goal-oriented activity and modification of the task or environment.  A child’s daily life tasks may include self-care, learning, demonstration of knowledge, and play.


    The school-based Occupational Therapist brings the knowledge of neuroscience, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and normal motor development to the educational framework in order to identify underlying causes of learning problems.  Services are provided to students when there is evidence that fine motor, sensory integrative and/or perceptual problems are interfering with academic achievement.  Where appropriate, play, self-care, transition to community, and pre-vocational skills may be assessed.


    The school-based Occupational Therapist looks at the child’s disability and the impact it has on learning performance.  Occupational therapy intervention will be provided only when identified problem areas are directly affecting educational achievement and cannot be solely addressed by the classroom teacher.  The school-based Occupational Therapist many make referrals to out-patient clinics for other agencies to address occupational therapy issues that are not within the realm of school-based practice.


    The occupational therapist works as a part of the multi-disciplinary team to provide an environment that is conducive to learning.  The therapist achieves this through assessment of the student’s performance and program planning and implementation. Consultation with teacher and parent is utilized to identify needs and plan for appropriate intervention.  Periodic reassessment of performance insured efficacy of treatment. 

    Click here to see a fact sheet from the AOTA about occupational therapy in a school setting.