What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?

Occupational Therapy Newsletter
What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?
Occupational therapy is a health and science
profession which helps individuals to participate in
everyday activities or “occupations” in order to be
successful in their home, school, workplace,
community, etc. Occupational therapist (OT) and
certified occupational therapist assistant (COTA)
may work in many different settings such as,
hospitals, schools, nursing facilities, outpatient
clinics, home health, early intervention, mental
health, etc. All settings have different demands and
areas of focus for individuals who need treatment.
Specific every day areas of focus or “occupations”
of individuals may include dressing, toileting,
cooking, gardening, mobility, etc.
Occupational Therapy in the School
School based occupational therapy focuses on the
student and how they are functioning in their
school environment. The overall goal of OT and the
school is to allow a student to succeed in their
educational environment. An OT/COTA supports
students in both academic and non-academic areas.
These areas may include writing, activities of daily
living (dressing, feeding, and toileting), social skills,
cutting, coloring, computer skills, sensory
regulation, paying attention in class, etc.
An OT/COTA may provide direct OT services to a
student who qualifies for services through an
individualized educational plan (IEP) or a 504 plan.
An OT/COTA creates goals and specific objectives
for a student to help them become successful in
school. The student receives direct services weekly
in order to achieve their overall goals. Once a
student no longer needs to receive OT services,
generally consultation services are provided for
success in the school environment.
March 2015
OT Referral Process
Student receives special
education/speech &
language service/504 plan
Student does not receive
any services
1. Teacher fills out OT screen
request form, and gives to OT
2. The OT/COTA or special
education team receives
consent from parents for
3. OT/COTA will complete the
screening process
4.OT/COTA calls parents or a
504 meeting or PPT is held to
discuss results and determine
if further evaluations are
5. If further evaluations are
appropriate, a consent form
must be signed by parents
6. The OT has 45 school days
to complete the evaluation.
The parents receive a copy of
the report and a PPT or 504
meeting is held within 45
school days to discuss results.
1. Teacher fills out
RTI/SRBI observation form
and gives to OT or COTA
2. The OT/COTA receives
consent for observation
from parents
3. OT/COTA will complete
4. OT/COTA writes a report
of findings and
5. The OT/COTA shares the
report with the SRBI team
and classroom teacher
Examples of Areas OT Supports
Handwriting: An OT/COTA helps improve letter sizing, letter
spacing, line placement/orientation, and letter reversals. Tools
are provided help students improve their handwriting. Specific
tools may include highlighted or raised line paper for line
placement/orientation, a finger spacer tool for spacing.
Sensory Integration: An OT/COTA works with students who
have difficulty regulating their levels of arousal. A sensory diet
may be provided with different activities such as utilizing a
swing, trampoline, heavy work, listening to calming music, etc.
Recommendations inside the classroom: Examples include
if a student has difficulty with attention or sitting still, an OT
may provide recommendations for improvement in these
areas. The strategies may include wiggle cushion, theraband
around chair, alternate seating positions (closer to teacher),
fidget toys, movement breaks, etc.
Molly Rasmussen, OTS
Occupational Therapy Newsletter Page 2
Pencil Grasps
A functional pencil grasp is important in order to
participate in educational activities.
Web Space:
An important aspect of a functional grasp is the student
having an open web space while holding a pencil.
Closed Web Space Open Web Space
Functional Grasps:
Tripod Grasp: Three fingers on the pencil. The pencil is
held between the tips of the index and thumb, and the
pencil rests on the side of the middle finger.
Sensory & Brain Breaks for the
If a student presents with difficulty sitting still in class or
needs a break from a task, the following are simple activities
to do inside the classroom:
*help with passing papers, books, etc. to classmates, yoga
poses, animal walks (bear, crab), wall/chair push-ups, heavy
work (putting books away, pushing in chairs), jumping
jacks, erasing board, run “errands” to the office, carry
Why is it important to take sensory and brain breaks?
Sensory/brain breaks help students with special needs such
as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism,
or typical peers to help with self-regulation and to reorganize information from the brain. Movement breaks help
students to focus, and/or calm the body to participate in
educational activities.
Fine Motor/Visual Motor/
Visual Perceptual Activities
Quadrupod Grasp: Four fingers on the pencil. The pencil
is held with the tip of the thumb, index, and middle finger,
and the pencil rests on the side of the ring finger.
Inefficient Grasps:
Thumb Wrap Grasp: The pencil is held in a mature tripod
or quadrupod grasp, but the thumb is wrapped around
fingers with a closed web space.
Students should participate in daily fine motor, visual
motor, and visual perceptual activities to help
strengthen the area of weakness in the student. The
following are some examples of activities to provide the
Fine Motor Activities:
*pick up small items (pom-poms, beads, marbles) with
tweezers, play dough with small items to find inside,
stringing beads, playing games with small pieces, spinning a
top, push pop beads together and pull apart
Visual Motor Activities:
*drawing, pre-writing shapes, handwriting, coloring, copying
sentences or shapes, cutting, lacing cards, stringing beads,
playing catch, hitting objects with a paddle, throwing at a
Visual Perceptual Activities:
Inter-Digital Brace Grasp: The pencil is positioned in
between the fingers with a closed web space.
Fingertip Grasp: The pencil is held with all five fingers.
Photo credit:
March 2015
*mazes, puzzles, i-spy, hidden object games, dot-to-dots,
copying pattern with pattern blocks, word searches, color by
number, matching objects and shapes
Backpack and Occupational
Therapy Awareness Month
Backpack Awareness Month is held every third
Wednesday in September. This event helps to educate
students, parents, and educators on the effect of heavy
backpacks and how to safely wear backpacks and to
prevent injury.
Occupational Therapy Awareness Month is
throughout the month of April to help spread the
importance and role of occupational therapist.
Molly Rasmussen, OTS