Occupational and Physical Therapy Intervention

Occupational and Physical Therapy Intervention
Pediatric rehabilitation using play with building blocks by occupational therapists

Occupational and Physical Therapy Intervention

February 2024

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants focus on the things you want and need to do in your daily life. Occupational therapy intervention uses everyday life activities (occupations) to promote health, well-being, and your ability to participate in the important actions in your life. This includes any meaningful activity that a person wants to accomplish, including taking care of yourself and your family, working, volunteering, going to school, among many others. School-based occupational therapy supports the occupations of students, to include participating in their academic curriculum, playing at recess, eating in the cafeteria, and performing self-care tasks.

Many may be familiar with school-based occupational therapy (OT) being a service done in a separate setting from the classroom, whether it is an empty classroom on a school campus or a room specifically for OT, this model provides a student with a specific, targeted intervention for skill acquisition to meet a goal. In this situation, the environment can be changed to encourage optimal performance, such as reducing noise and distractions. The therapist can create opportunities to challenge a student, including putting the student in a group or creating sensory experiences through manipulation of the environment. The expectation is that these new skills will then be carried over into the larger class setting. Another essential part of this model is that occupational therapists will share a student’s gains during individual sessions with the team including parents,teachers and classroom staff.

A popular and often preferred model of service provision is working on student’s goals in the natural setting of a classroom, a playground, lunchroom, etc. When an occupational therapist works in a student’s natural environment, they’re teaching the actual task during the most natural time of occurrence. The goal of engaging a student during their occupation is to facilitate the highest level of participation for successful completion of the task demands. For example, with a goal for independent opening of food packages at lunch, the student and therapist work in the cafeteria during lunch time on strategies for opening packages. These can be taught and practiced in the context of the lunch period.

Because of the holistic nature of the profession, therapists use these opportunities not only to provide the intervention, but to observe the student’s natural inclinations of positioning, fine motor movements, and response to their environment to plan future treatments to work toward a student’s goal. This allows for modeling an intervention to a teacher or to classroom support staff. When therapy takes place in the natural environment, it provides a rich opportunity for the therapist to understand and observe the student's classroom expectations. Therapists also gain knowledge related to curriculum, teaching styles, and classroom culture. This “least restrictive” approach of therapy taking place in the student’s natural environment, proves to be a rich opportunity for growth for the student, teacher, and occupational therapist.

Overall, the application of skills acquired through occupational therapy treatment should be embedded into the natural flow of a student’s daily activities. Each student and school environment are unique and thus the use of individual, group, separate setting or main classroom service will differ. The therapist's goal is to support students to participate and feel empowered during the performance of their daily occupations at school.