School occupational therapists are key contributors within the education team. They support a student’s ability to participate in desired daily school activities or “occupations.” They help children to fulfill their role as students by supporting their academic achievement and promoting positive behaviors necessary for learning. School occupational therapists support academic and non-academic outcomes, including math, reading and writing (i.e., literacy), behavior management, self-help skills, prevocational/vocational participation, transportation, and more. Because of their expertise in activity and environmental analysis, practitioners are particularly skilled in facilitating student access to curricular and extracurricular activities. They focus on the students’ strengths, and can design and implement programming to improve inclusion and accessibility, such as Universal Design for Learning. Additionally, they play a critical role in educating parents, educators, administrators and other staff members. They offer services along a continuum of prevention, promotion, and interventions and serve individual students, groups of students, whole classrooms, and whole school initiatives. They collaborate within the education team to support student success. In this way, occupational therapy practitioners can contribute to both general and special education.
The Importance of Handwriting
Handwriting is a complex process of managing written language by coordinating the eyes, arms, hands, pencil grip, letter formation, and body posture. Teachers often depend on written work to measure how well a child is learning. The development of a child's visual perception and motor skills influences performance in handwriting, classroom participation, and overall learning.
Occupational therapists can evaluate the underlying components that support a student's handwriting, such as seated positioning, hand strength, visual perception, fine motor control and eye-hand coordination. Parents can encourage activities at home to support good handwriting skills as follows:
- Encourage children to participate in sports and games that could improve visual, motor, and coordination skills, such as playing playing catch. It is recommended to start with a balloon first, then gradually move to more difficult balls (e.g. beachball, then koosh-ball, then basketball, then football, then tennis ball, etc.).
- Require children and teens to use silverware when eating to develop a mature fingertip hand grip.
- Provide an activity that exercises the hands, such as Play-Doh, cutting pie dough or pizza and using cookie cutters.
- Encourage children to copy or draw shapes including lines, circles, squares, triangles, diamonds, arrows, overlapping circles (e.g. Olympics logo).
- Encourage children to copy household objects including food, containers, toys, picture/portraits, cartoon characters, and items of personal interest.
- Encourage writing handwritten letters to grandparents and friends (tip: use tracing and/or copying as needed).