As an Occupational Therapist working for LLA Therapy, I have had the unique opportunity to wear two hats as both an outpatient therapist and a school therapist. Doing so has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the roles that each therapist plays in the development and treatment of the children and families we work with. Each serves a purpose with some commonalities and some differences.
The Role of a School Therapist
I address areas that have an educational impact on a student. For example, handwriting is an area that is often addressed as it a large part of a student’s day and academics. Other areas addressed within the school environment include, but are not limited to fine motor skills, cutting skills, sensory processing, hand strength, sensory processing, and self-regulation. School therapists are much more limited in time they spend treating student because services are often carried out in a pull-out model where a student is removed from the classroom for individualized or small group intervention. As a result, many of the students I see receive outpatient or private therapy services as well to further develop their skills. As a school therapist, I have found that communicating with outpatient therapists is very beneficial for both myself as a professional and my students in helping them make progress and meet their goals. For example, an area I frequently address is assisting children in learning to tie their shoes. They may also be seeing an outpatient OT for additional intervention. What if this therapist is teaching them the bunny loop method of tying and I am teaching the one loop method? This would leave the student even more confused and hinder progress. Something so simple, but very important!
The Role as an Outpatient Therapist
I have the flexibility to address areas that may not be covered within the school environment such as sleep, toileting, play skills, behavior, etc. I work directly with families and have the opportunity to teach them how to carry over skills in the home environment. Due to the nature of school based therapy, therapists are often more disconnected with families and do not have the chance to communicate as frequently. Students spend a significant amount of time in the school environment allowing school therapists to collaborate with teachers and other professionals who know the student well. An outpatient therapist typically sees a student 30-60 minutes for once or twice a week which is a small snapshot of time. Connecting with school therapists has allowed me to gain and share information (ex. motivators, behavior plans, favorite toys, sensory strategies, etc.) to provide more effective and appropriate treatment for my clients.
Helping to Connect Private and School Therapy
Taking these things into consideration, I would like to empower parents to assist in this process. Oftentimes, as both a school and outpatient therapist, there is a disconnect between the two that starts with simply not knowing the other one is a part of a team serving this child. I would like to encourage parents to get to know their occupational therapist and share contact information between the two settings as doing so can help their child’s progress and development. Fellow therapists, I know we have a lot on our plates and are chronically catching up on paperwork, but please make the effort to connect with other therapists. We may be in different settings, but we share the same desire to see our kids make progress and meet their goals.