If you believe your child could benefit from occupational therapy, you should contact your child’s school or school district to request an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Occupational therapy is considered a related service that accompanies special education.
The first step is requesting an IEP for occupational therapy or requesting occupational therapy services if your child already has an IEP. To request an IEP, you should contact your child’s school and ask them to evaluate your child for special education. Next, you should request that your child receive occupational therapy services as a part of their IEP. You should address your concerns and provide any additional information about your child’s need for occupational therapy, including input from your child’s doctor, any other provider, and any additional information regarding why your child needs occupational therapy as a related service. Finally, make sure to request it in writing and keep copies of your communications with the school.
Next, your child’s school will have a qualified occupational therapist assess your child’s fine and gross motor skills, visual perception, sensory processing, handwriting, and school participation. Your child’s IEP team will then review the assessment results and determine if your child is eligible for an IEP and if it’s necessary for your child’s education. Once your child is determined to be eligible for special education, you will meet with your child’s IEP team to develop their IEP. During the meeting, you will work with your child's IEP team to help develop your child’s IEP and discuss adding occupational therapy services and any necessary accommodations.
Your child’s IEP should include the frequency, duration, location, and dates your child will receive occupational therapy. All students have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), and being proactive in requesting occupational therapy services can help ensure your child receives the support they need in the classroom. Once your child’s school determines that occupational services will be added as part of your child’s IEP, your school’s occupational therapist will set goals and objectives to support your child’s school success. Your school’s occupational therapist will also become a vital member of the IEP team.
What if the School Recommends a 504 Plan?
If your child’s school finds that your child is not eligible for an IEP, they may recommend a 504 plan. To be found eligible for a 504 plan, students must have a disability or impairment that affects their ability to perform major life activities, such as walking, talking or breathing. Your child’s school will determine if your child’s disability adversely affects their educational performance. If your child’s school decides your child should have a 504 plan, you should continue to advocate for them to receive accommodations to help them succeed in school.
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy can help your child perform daily activities by improving their motor skills, sensory processing, communication skills, and visual motor skills. An occupational therapist can also help your child develop or adapt and help your child with the specific skills they need help with. An occupational therapist can help your child with games, toys, activities, educational handouts, accommodations, intervention strategies, exercises, adapted equipment, or specialized equipment. Most importantly, occupational therapy can help your child participate in class activities, play at recess, eat at lunchtime, and navigate their school.
- Improving, developing, or restoring functions impaired or lost through illness, injury, or deprivation;
- Improving ability to perform tasks for independent functioning if functions are impaired or lost; and
- Preventing, through early intervention, initial or further impairment or loss of function.
Each state has its own rules and regulations for certification. You can research your state’s rules and regulations at the American Occupational Therapy Association website.
What if my Child's School Denies my Request?
It can be frustrating and discouraging if your child’s school denies your request for an IEP or if they deny your request for occupational therapy as a related service. You have the right to request an individual independent evaluation conducted by a professional outside your child’s school district at the district’s expense. If your child’s school district still denies your request, you can appeal their decision. In addition, you can request a due process hearing from your state’s department of education. You can find your state’s department of education contact information on the U.S. Department of Education site. You can also contact your state’s Parent Training and Information Center to find valuable information about resources in your state.
How can Occupational Therapy Help My Child?
Occupational therapists provide support and services for many different areas that can help your child in the classroom. For example, they can help your child with their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory processing, and visual motor skills. Occupational therapists can also provide therapeutic intervention through compensatory strategies and adaptations, modification of tasks, and supporting accommodations. Occupational therapists can help your child in the following areas:
- Fine motor skills to help improve handwriting, drawing, using scissors, and grasping toys
- Gross motor skills to help your child sit up if they are having difficulty sitting
- Hand-eye coordination to help your child run, jump, or walk more easily
- Sensory processing to help your child better process information from their senses, help with play, and process sensory input
- Functional life skills to help with learning how to manage loud noises, bright lights, or other sensory issues
- Social skills to help communicate with others
- Executive functioning skills to help with planning, focusing, remembering instructions, and staying organized
- Psychosocial adaptation
Accommodations that can Help in the Classroom
Working with your child’s IEP team to develop accommodations to help your child in the classroom is essential. However, accommodations are based on each child’s individual needs. Therefore, it’s vital to talk to your child’s pediatrician, counselor, occupational therapist, or anyone else that has valuable information to help develop accommodations for your child. Some common accommodations that can significantly help and support your child in the classroom include, but are not limited to, the following:
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- Allow technology to replace handwriting
- Pencil grips such as universal writing aide, pencil grip trainers, crossover grips, or the pencil grip Claw
- Provide specialized adapted scissors
- Allow talk-to-text software or other apps to complete assignments
- Not grading on handwriting
- Assistive technology such as a FM system
- Allow typing
- Provide teacher notes or outlines
- Provide written copies of class notes and instruction
- Allow extra time on testing
- Adaptive writing paper such as bold line paper, raised line paper available in narrow rule or double rule
- Allow graph paper for written work
- Allow the use of mechanical pencils or pencil weights
- Allow sensory breaks and time scheduled breaks
- Allow the use of fidgets, sensory items, and weighted items
- Use of desk items such as Kinnebar (use code Jenn10 to get 10% off) that allows movement and has an attached Theraband
- Allow standing as needed
- Preferential seating
- Adaptive chairs and alternative seating, wobble cushions, yoga ball chairs, wobble stool desk chairs, portable lap desks, scoop rockers
- Slant boards for the presentation of class work or allow writing on a 3-ring binder
- Create schedules, planners, and time scheduled tasks to help your child stay organized
- Adaptive clothing such as body socks for PE and outdoor classes
- Adaptive feeding utensils
- Chewy, chewable necklaces, or chewable items
- Noise-canceling headphones for children and adults
Asking for occupational therapy for your child can seem daunting, but it’s vital to advocate for your child. Remember, you are your child's biggest advocate. Occupational therapy can play an important role in helping your child succeed in the classroom as well as gaining independence.