Occupational & Physical Therapists In Special Education
By: Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.
It can be a little overwhelming parenting a child with special needs, especially if you have no prior experience with disabilities. When your child receives a diagnosis for a certain condition that moves them to the special needs category, the time has come to start researching the disorder to familiarize yourself with everything there is to know. The more educated you are on the subject, the better able you will be to assist your child over the hurdles life has set in their path and the less scary it becomes.
When it’s time to call in reinforcements, some children with special needs require the assistance of medical professionals and specialists who are trained in the art of treating your child’s unique learning and physical needs. You might need to interact with occupational or physical therapists during the course of treatment, but what do they do?
For a child that might have a hard time doing the little things in the day, that’s when an occupational therapist steps in. They help a child with special needs improve performance in a number of areas such as self-care, school, play and other activities in which they are required to participate. Self-skills such as bathing, feeding and sitting up independently can be a chore to some, not occurring easily, so the goals of the occupational therapist would be to help the child with special needs work on their own with little to no assistance.
They can also help improve social-skills and interactions through play for children who might suffer from emotional or behavioral issues, or those who have low self-esteem due to frustrations caused by their disability. Teaching these children how to give and take during interactive play shows them how to properly behave in group situations, thus giving them a coping method when they encounter a similar circumstance. Adapting to school can be difficult for some children with special needs, and an occupational therapist can help to modify your child’s environment or situation through special equipment, furniture or services.
The role of an occupational therapist also encompasses neurological disorders and various forms of autism, like Asperger’s. It is not unusual for this type of therapist to assist with conditions like muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and cerebral palsy in a child with special needs, or sensory processing disorders. Your child’s main occupation in life is to grow and be healthy, followed by being independent, learning and playing. Giving them the tools to do their job successfully can achieve positive results that will last a lifetime.
Just as an occupational therapist is concerned with helping your child overcome certain barriers so, too, is a physical therapist. Their primary focus is on the rehabilitation and treatment of physical disorders that affect functional ability, general mobility and potential movement, all of which can improve quality of life for your child with special needs.
Physical therapists are in charge of the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of your child’s condition from newborn all the way through high school, should your child still require specialized services. There are many specific specialties that branch out from a general physical therapist – these can include focus on neurological disorders, pediatric concerns or orthopedic issues from either congenital causes or outside sources, such as an unexpected accident. For diagnosis, all available sources of medical information concerning the child with special needs will be considered so a proper treatment plan can be established. They might suggest actions such as exercise, controlled motor functions or strength training to help overcome obstacles to physical wellness; each plan is tailored to the individual child so as to accommodate for their specific needs and unique abilities.
Services During School
Unless you are your child’s teacher, it is almost impossible for you to monitor your child’s activity during school hours, which is why school-based services are available to help your child succeed and receive a high quality level of education. Once your child is deemed eligible for special education services and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is created, it’s time to contact the school system to see what services are offered that will assist your child during their day.
Occupational and physical therapists will be present as part of your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), an assessment and clearly defined set of goals for everyone to follow, including school officials, educators and the therapists assigned as part of the school-based services program. Most likely, unless your child’s school participates in the full inclusion method of learning, there is a special education program that can help facilitate the learning environment your child needs.
In certain situations, your child might be placed in a self-contained classroom, which provides a smaller classroom setting and personalized environment, in which it is easier for a therapist to work with the child throughout the day. The therapist, any assistants and special education teachers are advised on the services your child requires for daily learning and participation in school activities and will make every effort to provide the necessary accommodations for success.
The Next Step
After establishing your child has special needs, remember to have patience: the process of establishing an IEP might take some time, during which you might want to seek the services of an outside professional.
Once services are procured, make sure you and your child take it one day at a time so as to not become overwhelmed in the process. Celebrate small goals and milestones and find peace knowing that there is no straight path to the finish line – there will be setbacks and accomplishments until you find a combination of therapies that works for your child, but you are not alone. The school, friends and family, and Special Education Resource are here to help you with the information and customized special education tutoring you need to help your child enjoy continued learning success.
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