By: Danielle Peets, OTR/L
Establishing whether your child needs school-based therapy, clinic-based therapy, or both, can be very confusing. You may even be under the impression that occupational therapists in these settings would address the same thing, but the answer might surprise you. Occupational therapy in a school setting and one in a clinic based environment can look very different. So the question becomes, does your child need school-based therapy, clinic-based therapy, or both?
Let’s talk school. Services provided at school focus on the child’s ability to function in the educational environment. In order to qualify for school services, the child MUST demonstrate delayed behavior that significantly interferes with their ability to learn. As occupational therapists, we work with teachers in order to optimize performance and help the child function successfully in school. Our focus might be on handwriting, specialized fine motor tools, adapting and modifying the classroom to meet the needs of the child, copying from the board, providing sensory seating, as well as, providing sensory strategies for the classroom. The main theme here is school. What does that mean? Well, deficits that are not significantly impacting participation in school are not addressed in a school-based program. So, while school-based occupational therapy is beneficial for children, the goals addressed in this setting are specific to academic skills.
Now, let’s talk clinic. Services provided in the clinic focus on addressing the areas affecting a child across multiple settings including home, the community and school. We use a multidisciplinary and family-centered approach in order treat the child holistically and promote function and independence with all roles/life skills. A substantial part of clinic based services is the family’s essential role with setting goals and their active participation in each session. Our focus in this setting might be on handwriting but were also addressing any underlying issues. Maybe your child has difficulty maintaining an upright seated position at the table due to weak core muscles which is directly impacting their handwriting skills. We might focus on sensory processing skills to ensure your child has the appropriate attention during writing tasks. Lastly, we might look at your child’s vision and fine motor skills because without eye-hand coordination a child has difficulty forming letters and staying on the lines.
The take away is this –your child may have been denied school services or are currently getting services to address school-based delays. In both scenarios you may have further concerns with their school based needs, activities of daily living, sensory processing skills, motor delays, visual skills, or social needs. If this is the case an occupational therapy evaluation at the clinic would benefit your child and work to maximize their independence and function both in school and daily life.