5 Places to Find Money (to fund your School OT Practice)

money-1015277_960_7205 Places to Find Money to Fund Your School OT Practice

by Marie Toole, MS OTR/L

on the School Tools From Your Pediatric Occupational Therapist Blog

 

Recently I wrote a grant for sensory supplies.  I put some pictures up on my School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists Facebook page and I got lots of responses from others wanting to know how they can get funding too.  I don’t have the magic pill…and you too can ask for money for supplies.  Here are 5 ways that I tend to find money.  Know that I can be tenacious and will keep asking until I get what I need for my students.  It is not begging…I call it advocating for my students.  Here is how I advocate!

Your Principal

Your first stop should be your principal or assistant principal to ask them to fund items that you need for students.  I find if I go to my principal with a specific request and a PO all filled out with a specific amount they sometimes can find money in their discretionary budget.  My greatest success rate is when it is for a specific piece of equipment for a specific child (ie Joey needs a pressure vest, size small) and when I can a) demonstrate the need, b) demonstrate that research backs this up and c) let the principal know that I will take data and train the parapros/TA’s to use the equipment properly and at the correct times I often get the funds.

office-unsplash-pixabay

PTO

Sometimes the principal’s hands are tied and their budget is frozen.  My next step is to go to the PTO group.  They often fund many extra items that are not typically in the school’s budget.  If you can demonstrate the need and the benefit, they can sometimes find some money.  I feel like my biggest success with PTO group is for items that many students will benefit from.  I recently put together sensory bins for each classroom.  PTO helped me out with additional supplies for 24 sensory boxes.

calculator-stevepb-pixabay

Medicaid to Schools Funds

This is a new one for me.  In my old district the medicaid funds went into a general fund that the Special Education director used.  In my new district I can request funds for a specific child or a group of children who are identified and have IEP’s in place.  The process was easy for me to request a dizzy disc for the Autism program I work with.  I am not at that school every day and I really did not want the TA’s to be using the swing without OT supervision so I thought a dizzy disc would be a great alternative.  I had one in my old school and it was used frequently.  I put the paperwork in and a few weeks later it arrived.  It certainly would not hurt to ask if there is a way to use Medicaid to Schools funds for equipment that you need.  Of course that means that you actually need to do your Medicaid billing!

Education Foundation

In both school districts I have worked in there has been an adjunct Education Foundation that raises money for teachers to use for special projects, to go to expensive continuing education programs or try specific curriculum units that need to be funded.  This is the program I used to write my $1000 grant for sensory supplies for each classroom in one of the buildings I work in. There are generally guidelines on that foundation’s website, and sometimes they will even help you write the grant.  Watch for emails from the education foundation in your district about grants and the deadlines you will need to follow.  Find a mentor to help you write the grant or ask the foundation directly for help.  They honestly want to give the money away for great projects that help students succeed.  It is an awesome opportunity to expand the Education Foundation’s awareness of “related services” and OT in particular.  Maybe you can write a sensory grant with your speech pathologist or social worker.  Collaboration between disciplines often get funded before single service providers.

conference-room-unsplash

Outside Philanthropic groups

As a last resort I have gone to outside groups in the town where the schools are to ask them for money.  Let your principal know that you are doing this as principals generally do not like to be caught blindsided by these type of requests.  Does your town have a Rotary/Lions/Kiwanis group or a Men’s/Women’s group in town that gives scholarships away?  Maybe there is a church group or another community service group in town that has money to give away,  Look in your small, weekly local paper for those type of groups.  Find out if they have money to give away.  You may have to go to their meeting and do a short presentation, answer questions etc but it is certainly worth it.  Be considerate of how often you ask the same group for money.  Spread the wealth…and the public relations of talking about Occupational Therapy to all of these groups all over town.  Look at it as an opportunity to share your passion for OT and remember to mention our Centennial year–100 years as a profession this year!  How awesome is that?

Whenever you do get funds from a group remember to send a thank you note and pictures. They will often put them on their website as further PR for OT and your school.  Maybe you can start a partnership with this group for additional volunteer opportunities at your school for its members!

If you need funds for additional equipment or supplies for your students do not be afraid to ask. What is the worst thing that could happen? They say they do not have any funds at this time.  So move on to the next group and ask them. As you continue to advocate for your students you are subsequently advocating for Occupational Therapy and raising awareness.  Look at this as an opportunity to practice your OT Month PR pitch as often as is needed!  I look at this as me asking for needed supplies/equipment AND promoting Occupational Therapy to a wider audience. Doesn’t get much better than that!

Money Picture: https://pixabay.com/en/money-euro-profit-currency-1015277/

Office Computers: https://pixabay.com/en/office-two-people-business-team-1209640/

Calculator: https://pixabay.com/en/calculator-calculation-insurance-1680905/

Conference Room Table: https://pixabay.com/en/conference-room-table-office-768441/

MarieToole, MS,OTR/LMarie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA, NHOTA, and OTAC.  She now lives in Colorado and can be reached at mtoole3@cherrycreekschools.org.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  
Photos are the property of the photographers at Pixabay and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.
5 Places to Find Money (to fund your School OT Practice)

OTR-OTA Relationships: Grow and Learn Together

pinky-swear cherylholt pixabayOTR-OTA Relationships:  Grow and Learn Together

by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L

on the School Tools From Your Pediatric   Occupational Therapist Blog

 

 

One of the joys of working in the schools is the relationships you make with the teachers and other staff members.  One of the more important relationships to feather is that with the custodian as he or she will be your go-to person for a myriad of reasons.  Another person is the tech teacher for all things computer, keyboard, or technology related.   BUT…..the most important relationship there is in school-based occupational therapy is that between the Registered Occupational Therapist (OTR) and the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA).   I have been working with COTA’s (Certified OTR’s) for many years, first in the hospital setting and for the past 21 years in the schools.  I have learned a thing or two in that time about fostering that relationship and I wanted to share my perspective as an OTR who is supervising two COTA’s with more experience than me!

Although these suggestions can help all OTRs who are supervising COTA’s, they can be especially beneficial to those of you who are new graduates and will supervising COTA’s for the first time or someone who has transitioned into the school setting.   Here are a few of my suggestions:

Know your state guidelines for supervision.  As the OTR, it is your responsibility to know and understand your state guidelines for supervising COTA’s.  The American Occupational Therapy Association shares an informative outline for state-by-state guidelines.  Your license is on the line each and every time a treatment session commences between your COTA and the students on your caseload.  You are responsible even if your COTA carries her own caseload.  You need to know what is happening with those students. office-upsplash pixabay Your state licensing act will be very specific about how much supervision time is required.  My COTA’s have almost 30 years of experience each.  We have been working together a long time.  We have a formal sit-down time of one hour per week but have lots of more informal time to catch up and discuss cases.  I spend half my week at each school so there is plenty of face time at each building.  Make sure you both are comfortable with the amount of formal and informal supervision time you spend together.  You should always err on the side of caution and use your best judgement when deciding how and when supervision should occur.  Does it need to be sit down time? Do you attend IEP/evaluation meetings together?   Do you meet each morning over coffee?  Whatever works for you and meets the letter of the law is good.  If it doesn’t work or you find yourself skipping it…you need a different system.  Try different methods, meeting times, and scheduling.  Make it work so you both feel comfortable and ethical.

Understand each other’s role.  It is very important to understand the scope of practice for the COTA and OTR.  See the Standards of Practice for OT at this link, as well as the AOTA Guidelines for OTA Supervision for specific details.  The OTR performs most of the evaluations but there is a role that the COTAs can play as well.  Although the COTAs cannot interpret results, sometimes they have more time with the students and have a better relationship with them.  In this light, they can perform portions of evaluations under the direction of the OTR or complete classroom observations to add anecdotal information.  That is valuable information that will assist in making meaningful and appropriate treatment sessions.

diversity-ambroochizafer pixabayHave Mutual Respect.  I think this is probably the most important aspect of the OTA/OTR relationship.  It needs to be a true partnership in every sense.  Trust needs to be there as does open lines of communication.  When I first left the hospital setting and was transitioning to the schools for work,  the COTA I was to supervise had been working in the schools for years.  She had vast experience and knowledge that I soaked up and used to better myself.  I was coming from a medical model background and it took time to make the transition to the education/related service delivery model instead.  She helped me navigate the intricacies of IEP’s and school-based OT evaluations.  She schooled me on the timelines and regulations that go along with all things school related.  She was and still is a wealth of knowledge to this day.  I could not have done this job without her.   Yes I was her supervisor, but I was never her superior, nor will I ever be.  We have a wonderful working relationship and enjoy each other’s company on the occasional social events outside of the school day.  We have presented several workshops together and we often finish each other’s sentences.  Years of working together with both of my COTAs has shown me what mutual respect can look like.    Knowing your limits and what each can bring to the table will greatly enhance your relationship.

Coordinate your Professional Development.  One area that we work on is continuing education and professional development.  We almost never go to the same workshops.  Going to different workshops or conferences brings more knowledge into the working relationship.  We share what we learned and try out new ideas or treatment methods and have an honest and true discussion about merits and pitfalls.  You have to be able to give and take and at times agree to ditch something that is not working for something better.  Bettering yourself professionally only enhances that relationship.

businessman-ravadosa pixabayHave a Way to Communicate quickly.  Sometimes I am in one building and something happens at the other building that needs immediate or quick attention.  Sharing schedules and telephone contact information only enhances your communication.  We use text messaging as well as phone messages and email as ways of communicating quickly.  The school secretary can always find me if it is a true emergency.  Sometimes, if there are snow days or holidays, I may not get to one of the buildings for several days.  Things come up.  So have a way of communicating that works for both of you.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!   Speaking of communicating…do it often!  Open lines of communication are a MUST in this job.  Do not let things fester or boil over.  We need to work as a team to get the best from our students.  The best and easiest way to do that is to talk, and talk, and talk some more.  We often bounce ideas off each other or ask questions and even think out loud.  Often I am typing evals or writing IEP’s if I am not working directly with students.  My favorite thing is when my COTAs say “When you have a minute, I need advice/have a question/want to try something, etc.”  It lets me know they need something but gives me a chance to finish up what I am working on to shift gears and give them the full attention the request deserves.  Do not be checking email or your phone while doing this.  Listen attentively and actively; and if you need time to digest or think about their request, let them know.  Sometimes I don’t have all the answers…actually more often than not I don’t.  It is okay to say that and to gather the information and report back.  It is not okay to guess and make a mistake because you thought you had to have an answer right then and there.  “Let me get back to you on that” is a great phrase to use.  Sticky notes are my absolute favorite things ever (why didn’t I think of that invention?).  My COTAs leave me sticky notes so they won’t forget to ask me something the next time they see me.  Have a spot where they can leave you notes/messages/forms that need signing, etc., and that they do not want to forget.  I have a mailbox and share a desk at each building.  It is the first place I check when I arrive at each building.    My COTAs know it is the place to leave all important things that need my attention.  Make sure you have a place that is safe and secure so that wandering eyes do not necessarily see information that is private or sensitive.

Know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  This goes back to communication.  You must share and acknowledge the areas that are challenging for each of you.  One of my COTAs is “technologically challenged” and she readily admits it.  I help her with all things team geralt pixabaycomputer and she balances my impulsiveness.  When the ebb and flow of the school year gets crazy and there are all kinds of evals to complete, this is when you need to be able to say “Can you shift something to help me with this?”  When you understand each other’s strengths and challenges ,you can play off each other and complement services to fit both people’s needs.   It is a give and take and with time this should be a comfortable arrangement.  When you both share the same drive and passion for working with children, this is easy.  When you are out of sync it takes work.

Understand that life happens.  I think this is the best piece of advice I can give you.  Personal issues come up, there are weddings and  graduations to attend, babies and grandchildren are born,  kids or parents get sick, loved ones die….all these things need to be put into perspective.  As I tell my COTA’s (and anyone who will listen), “They are not going to name the school after you!”  Giving each other the needed time off to attend to family needs is a must.  Family comes first and when a crisis hits, you want to know that your school family will be there to support you.  Being flexible and understanding goes a long way in building trust and respect.  Allowing each other the room tolive life to the fullest  will guarantee a mutually respected, complementary, trusting OTR-OTA relationship that others will be envious of.

 

**This blog is dedicated to the two amazing COTA’s I work with.  Penny and Judy …I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the helping me to grow as a supervising OTR and for the trusting, caring, mutually respectful relationship we have.  You Rock!  I will miss you as I start my new adventures in life!

 

 

Marie TooleMarie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at marietoole320@gmail.com.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 

 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  
Photos are the property of the photographers at Pixabay and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.  

 

 

OTR-OTA Relationships: Grow and Learn Together

Celebrate OT Month All Year

Toole April Blog OT Month PosterCelebrate OT Month All Year

by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L

on the School Tools From Your Pediatric   Occupational Therapist Blog

 

It is April…and Happy Occupational Therapy Month.  I’ve just returned from the AOTA conference in Chicago—one of the biggest conferences to date.  It is always exciting to go to the national conference and be amongst 10,000 colleagues and find the newest products out there or to listen to the latest trends and see the exciting research being done in our field.  It is an exhausting four days but invigorating at the same time.  If you get a chance to go to an AOTA conference take it….it is worth it!

So this got me thinking about how we, as school-based OT’s, can promote our profession year round.  Not just once a year in the month of April by putting up a bulletin board, but how do we keep OT in the forefront of the students, staff, and parents’ minds?  Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling…

August:  Desk and Chair checks

At the beginning of each school year, I go into most of the classrooms and make sure all the students fit properly into their desks.  I use the “10 feet on the floor” rule:  the student’s 2 legs and the 4 legs of the chair and desk all need to be on the floor at once.  desk and chairs toole ApriljpgThe classroom teacher and I make sure the chairs fit first and then find desks to match.  We have the students sit at their desks with their elbows resting on it.  In this position, they should be able to comfortably rest their chins on their open palm.  We try to mix and match within the classroom, but our custodians are great about moving desks up or down a few notches when needed.   Remember to check the computer lab too.  Since that room serves children from all grades, often the chairs do not fit properly.  As an adaptation, we often have foot rests (phone books duct taped together) for the students to rest their feet on.   For those classrooms I cannot reach, I always send an email reminder about how to properly size desks and chairs for students.

 

September:  Backpack Awareness Events

OT-Rex-Backpack-logoAOTA has wonderful resources for BackPack Safety Awareness Day.  As occupational therapists, we are in a perfect position to remind students and parents about proper purchasing and packing of backpacks that fit properly and do not weigh too much.  Backpacks are often too heavy for our little ones.  They should weigh no more than 15% of a child’s weight. (100 pound child=15 pound backpack, 50 pound child =7 pound backpack).  In the past, I have weighed backpacks as students come off the bus in the morning.  I make sure the principal puts a reminder in her weekly note to parents and I send home a flyer to parents as well.  Educating parents and students to “pack it light, pack it right” is always good advice.

 

October:  “Arnie and his School Tools”

By this point in the school year, the students have settled in somewhat and the routines have been established.  I try to get into the classrooms and read one of my favorite books “Arnie and his School Tools”.  This story is about a little boy who struggles to maintain attention and fidgets all day long.  His “teachers” help him to find tools and activities that help him.  I am sure that his OT helped him as well!  “With the right tools, everybody’s day goes a little smoother.”  We talk about different tools and strategies available in each classroom and how to use them as tools and not toys.

 

November:  Parent teacher Conferences

At the beginning of the school year when I send home my introductory letter to parents, I let them know I would love to come to their parent-teacher conference in November.  We find a mutually convenient time with the classroom teacher when I can give my OT update as well as find out how my students are doing in all other areas of the curriculum.  I love to connect with parents as early as possible in the school year to build that relationship.

 

December:  Cool Down strategies

The holidays are upon us and the students are very excited!  At this time of year the classroom teachers often request some ideas for cool down strategies.  When I have time, I like to go in and review classroom rechargers.  It is helpful to remind them that heavy work activities such as monthly warmups need to be done slowly and in control.   Deep breathing techniques that will keep our students in the just right zone for learning will make this month more manageable for everyone.  We encourage beefing up the use of Zones of Regulation tools and strategies during December to help everyone out!

 

movement Peggy_Marco pixabayJanuary:  Add in some movement

Now the cold and snow has settled in and there seems to be endless indoor recess days.  Now is the time to add more movement into the school day.  Click on the guy at the left to see my past blog post for ideas.

 

February:  Awards Days

All throughout the school year, I leave little awards for some of my students.  When their desk is clean and neat when I check it, I leave the “Clean Desk Award.”  When I see children holding their pencils correctly and using good spacing and line placement, I give out the “Golden Thumb Award.”  My favorite way to recognize students is called the “Sparkle Fairy.”  It is an opportunity for awarding students by catching them doing kind things for one another.  Once a week I dress up in a tutu and give out “Sparkles” in the cafeteria during every lunch period.  Both students and staff can win Sparkles and I am the lucky one who gets to award them weekly!  Students see me in the hallways during the week and are reminded to “fill a bucket” with sparkles!

Toole April Blog Sparkle Fairy

 

March:  Test taking strategies

We start our statewide testing in March.  I send home a “test taking strategies” tip sheet to parents of all third and fourth graders.  It includes some general reminders about getting a good night’s sleep and eating properly as well as reading the entire question and taking a deep breath.  The first and second grade classrooms “adopt” one of the third and fourth grade classrooms and decorate the classroom doors and leave little notes and cards on each day of testing.  As a school, we are all in this together and we try and support each other.   As occupational therapists, we are in a great position to remind both students and staff about stress management strategies.

test school ClkerFreeVectorImages Pixabay

Click here for a sample handout for

Test Taking Strategies!

 

April:  OT Month

Ahhh…my favorite month of the school year!  Bulletin boards outside the OT office tout some of the fun activities we do in OT.  Parents are in for conferences again, as well as the Book Fair, so lots of people see this.  I have my students write about the fun things they like best about OT for our monthly writing prompt.  At staff meeting this month, I will be giving out balloon buddies that a few fourth grade students and I made out of play-doh and balloons.   I wear my OT T-shirts as often as I can and I am participating in a Twitter challenge to post a picture a day for the month of April about what I do as a school-based OT.   Follow me on Twitter at @MarieTooleOTNH.

 

May:  Field Days

Does your school have Field Days?  The physical education teacher runs our field days and they are a blast!  A day filled with fun water games, races, and skills that every student participates in with their class.  You might think this is a perfect opportunity to get some paperwork done as your students are busy.  Wait…go play with them!  The students love to have the grownups in the buildings play alongside them.  Some of our students may have sensory overload and may just need a break or an easy tweak to an activity to enable them to still participate.  What better staff person than the OT can help with that?  Get out there and have some fun…you deserve it after the year you have had!  Field Day is one of my most favorite days of the school year!

 

June:  Summer Packets and Activity Calendars

As the school year comes to a close, I always put together a packet with some worksheets for practicing letters or maybe mazes or journaling pages.  Think rainy day fun ideas.  I also Toole April Blog Journalput together a calendar of fun activities for July and August so when the boredom sets in they can always find something to do on the calendar.  If the students bring back their calendar at the beginning of next yea,r they get to go into the prize box (pencils and awesome hand toys) which they love!  Parents always ask for ideas for summer fun.  If you make it fun and interesting they will want to keep at it.

 

 
So these are just a few ways to be noticed throughout the school year.  As school-based OT’s, we have an opportunity to interact with our “clients” whether they be staff, administrators, students, or parents on a regular basis.  Parents and community members are in our schools all the time.  Let your OT light shine all year through!  I think we have the best job in the world…let your world know that all year!  Happy OT Month!

 

 

Marie TooleMarie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at toolem@sau25.net.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  
Photos are the property of the author or site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.  

 

Photo Credits:  Movement by Peggy_Marco on Pixabay.

Desk and Chairs:  https://pixabay.com/en/children-kids-sitting-chair-little-483146/

 

Celebrate OT Month All Year

Collaborating with Classroom Teachers: A win-win

Collaborating with Teachers: A win-win by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L

Collaborating with Classroom Teachers:  A win-win

by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L

on the School Tools From Your Pediatric   Occupational Therapist Blog

 

 

I often get asked how long I have worked for the school district I am currently employed with.  When I tell them I have been there 21 years they are amazed.  The next question is always “How can you work in one place for so long?”  My answer always is “I work with the best teachers and we collaborate to provide the best services for our students.”  How do we do that you might ask?  Here are a few of the programs we have in place that help me to collaborate with the teachers I work with.

Collaborating to “SPOT” those children struggling in the curriculum

child writing picjumbo pixabayYou will see SPOT time on my schedule.  In our kindergarten classroom, the Speech Pathologist (SP) and the Occupational Therapist (OT) have time blocked in for classroom support time, 30 minutes per week in each kindergarten classroom.  We each have separate blocks to go in and “SPOT” those children who may be struggling with curriculum or motor skills.  The speech pathologist might work on language or articulation skills.  As the OT, I am looking for those little friends that may have challenges with holding a pencil, using scissors, forming letters, coloring, or using blocks.  I often go in when it’s center time and run a fine motor or hand skill center that the teacher has set up to coordinate with the curriculum work they are completing.

 

When I first started in this district 21 years ago, I had lots of referrals for handwriting, hand skills, and pencil grips. Since then I have presented a lot of teacher and professional development workshops on these particular topics and my classroom teachers are well versed in typical development and what is expected.  For the first few months of the school year, I work with all of the kindergartners.  As we get into the second half of the year, my groups have been streamlined to include those 5 or 6 students per class that continue to struggle.  We may work on writing their name, or the letter of the week, or maybe we work on math or number formation.  Those children get small group instruction in hopes that we can stall a referral for special education or an occupational therapy evaluation.  The philosophy of the school district I work in is to give students supports early on and do what is right for students.  I am lucky in that regard that I can service all students using the Response to Intervention model (RtI). Working with the classroom teachers this way has cut down on our referrals significantly.

 

Collaborating in the Classroom during Writer’s Workshop Time

Pen Pal ProgramAnother area in which I work closely with the classroom teachers is PenPals.  In third grade the OT staff and the classroom teacher co-teach cursive writing. We take it slow and teach 2 letters per week over the course of the school year. At the end of the school year, the OT staff coordinates a PenPal program amongst the three elementary schools in town.  We explain the program to the students and get parent permission for their child to participate.  We gather all the permission slips and then match PenPals together.  The goal of the program is to get the students to write to each other at least three times over the summer.  It is a great way to practice cursive writing and keep those skills in the forefront before fourth grade!

 

I also conduct another PenPal Project  with one of my second grade classes.  On Friday afternoons, this classroom teacher has set aside a writing block where the students write home to their parents about their week at school.  The students brainstorm all the cool things that happened over the course of the week and then they write home to an adult who writes back.  The students love getting a letter from their parent, a grandparent, an aunt, or older brother or sister.  I use this block as one of my therapy times for students in her classroom.

 

A third PenPal program we have is Letters to Soldiers.  In early November our elementaryPen Pal Letters schools participate in a drive to send care packages to soldiers overseas.  There are specific items that can be sent and the students love to bring in granola bars, small boxes/bags of candy, white tube socks, or lip balm to put in the packages.  Along with the goodies, our students write letters as well.  Sometimes we get letters or pictures back and classrooms have an ongoing relationship with that specific soldier.  We do this in conjunction with a Veteran’s Day program which is truly humbling to be a part of.

 

 

Collaborating on Scheduling:  Push In vs. Pull Out

Another area where I collaborate closely with my classroom teachers is on scheduling.  I like to work with my students right in the classroom.  I sometimes pull out to the OT office as well for specific therapy skills that need polishing, but for the most part I work in the classrooms.  At the beginning of the school year, scheduling is always the priority.  The teachers I work with understand the crazy schedule of a school therapist who goes between buildings across the district.  I try to work around their schedules to get the best times that students ludi pixabaythey will be doing Writer’s Workshop times in their classrooms.  Once they get the schedule from the special education team, the teachers always want to schedule with us next.  They love having an extra pair of hands in their classroom to help with the craft of writing.  Whether it is writing personal narratives in second grade or state reports in fourth grade, the OT staff is there to assist our students with written expression. “Showing what you know” is one of the most difficult tasks we ask our students to do on a daily basis.  Sometimes a little help with scaffolding ideas or a reminder to put spaces between words and use capital letters or punctuation can put the polish on a piece of writing and make our students proud of their work!

 

One thing to remember when scheduling time in the classroom: You are a guest in that teacher’s classroom.  Work with the teacher to make sure you are on the same page and have the same goals for each lesson. Sometimes it helps to check earlier in the week to make sure all is set. Find out if the teacher likes you to pull a small group to a back table or if you can work with students right at their desks. Getting this information right up front will help everyone have a more successful school year.  When you work together and respect each other’s roles, it not only helps your students but helps your scheduling.  When classroom teachers likes and respects you they will a) go out of their way to make the schedule work, b) will drop what they are doing to switch gears if necessary when you show up in the classroom, and c) be more likely to tell you early enough in the week when plans need to change.

 

Collaborating with the teachers I work with has made my job so much easier over the course of my career.  I plan to retire from this school district at the end of this school year.  Although a move across country has made this necessary, it is still hard to say goodbye to a team of teachers in two different buildings that I have worked hard to “train” and educate as to what OT’s have to offer.  I am hoping to land a school OT job in my new community and will bring these ideas with me.  It will be starting anew for all of us.  I can only hope that my new colleagues will be as willing to collaborate as my current teams are.

 

 

 

Marie TooleMarie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at toolem@sau25.net.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  
Photos are the property of the author or site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.  
Collaborating with Classroom Teachers: A win-win

4 Tips for adding more movement into the school day

movement Peggy_Marco pixabay4 Tips for adding more movement into the school day

by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L

on the School Tools From Your Pediatric   Occupational Therapist Blog

 

 

 

It’s February…and winter is digging in its heels!  The groundhog says spring is coming early…yet here in New Hampshire we just got 8 inches of snow!.  If you talk with any elementary school teacher the winter is never ending it seems!  Getting the kids ready for outdoor recess is dragging on…and sometimes it is too cold to go out.  What’s a teacher to do?  Well, its easy to add some sensory and movement experiences throughout the day.

 

 

battery charger bykst pixabay

 

Classroom Rechargers

 

In the elementary schools I work in, we have added sensory and movement experiences in a couple of unique ways.  A few years ago the physical education teachers and the occupational therapy staff collaborated on booklets we call “Classroom Rechargers.”  We compiled 20 activities for each grade level that classroom teachers can do with their entire classes, with little to no equipment and little space.  We made them developmentally appropriate for preschool through fourth grade.  Each grade level’s booklet is unique so students don’t use the same ones over and over as they progress through the grades.   Teachers use them frequently throughout the day, especially during transitions between subjects.

To access these booklets, click on the grade level that you are interested in:

Rechargers Grade 1

Rechargers Grade 2

Rechargers Grade 3

Rechargers Grade 4

Rechargers Grade 5

 

Sensory Therapeutic Exercise Programs (STEP)

You may have heard the term “sensory diet” used frequently.  Parents and staff alike seemed confused about that term so we now call it “Sensory Therapeutic Exercise Programs” or STEP programs.  We collaborate with the classroom teachers and use their existing schedule and transition times to add STEP activities for their students.  As they walk in the hallway to go to art class, the whole class may stop outside the art room and do wall push-ups.  Or maybe the kindergarten class walks like animals on their way to use the bathrooms.  As teachers finish math instruction and are moving into reading groups, many teachers will add a movement break to ease the transition.  You will see some of our students in the hallway using jump ropes or medicine balls.  We have many options for students to add sensory and movement experiences throughout their day.  All students need a break now and then.  One of their favorite STEP activities is “Go Noodle”  There are so many to choose from and the students love them!

Toole Feb BodySpell

 

STEP Camp

Another option we have for our students is Sensory or STEP Camp.  Each morning at the first bell when the rest of the students are lining up to come in from before-school recess, we have a small group of students come to the OT room for STEP camp.  We have created a monthly calendar for the school year and have designated 3 exercises each week to complete.  The students come in, drop their backpacks in the designated spot, and get to work completing the activities listed.  There are usually three activities, with two being heavy work type activities (such as Roman Soldiers, Cross Crawls, Jumping Jacks, Skier Jumps, or some other activity).  We always end with a breathing exercise.  We may use 6-sided breathing, Lazy 8 breathing, Hot Soup breathing from Zones of Regulation, or we may choose another breathing activity.  Initially, the OT staff walked them through each activity.  By this time in the school year, however, they are mostly independent in completing them on their own and we just supervise.  The students are then allowed to get a “mouth tool” (a piece of sugarless gum and drink of water) before going to class.  The students don’t miss any class time as this typically takes less than 5 minutes to complete.  Our students generally benefit from missing the hubbub around the coat and backpack hooks in that early morning rush; so this helps them to start their day in a more positive and calming way.

Toole Feb Bulletin Board 4
Click here for STEP Camp Calendars!

 

Session Warm-Ups

For those students who have direct occupational therapy services included in their IEP, we start each therapy session with warm-ups.  In our OT office, we have a bulletin board designed with choices for different warm-ups.  These warm-ups are generally closely tied to what the students will be learning in physical education class.  This gives them extra opportunities to practice skills that are typically harder for them.  Our students just completed a fitness unit in PE class.  In our OT sessions, we worked on crunches, planks, and long leg stretches as our warm-ups prior to our writing or “OT work” session.  Next month our students will be completing jump rope skills, so we have started introducing jump ropes into our therapy sessions.  Collaborating with the physical education teachers has been so helpful for all of our students.

 Bulletin Board 1

 

There is plenty of research out there that touts the benefit of adding more movement experiences to our students’ school day.  I am a big proponent of outdoor recess and activities that promote movement in school.  Childhood obesity is a very real and dangerous malady affecting many of our students.  Let’s do our part to help students get the physical exercise they need each day to be productive and engaged scholars!

 

Marie TooleMarie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at toolem@sau25.net.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  
Photos are the property of the author or site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.  

 

4 Tips for adding more movement into the school day

Occupational Therapy Evaluations in the School: How do they work?

Draw a Person Toole

 

Occupational Therapy Evaluations in the School:  How do they work?

by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L

on the School Tools From Your Pediatric   Occupational Therapist Blog

 

 

Last month I wrote about the special education process and what you as a parent could expect. There was lots of information about timelines, permissions, and the kinds of evaluations that may occur. This month I want to tackle the occupational therapy evaluation in particular.  When I evaluate a student, I am looking at him through the eyes of a school-based pediatric occupational therapist (OT).  Let’s just clarify what a school-based OT can and will need to do to fully explore all options to best plan for your child’s educational needs.

As a school-based OT, I am required by law to represent your child’s educational needs as they relate to the curriculum.  I am a related services provider, meaning the services I deliver must enhance your child’s ability to access his education, making a positive difference in his life.  I have to justify these services by synthesizing the findings I’ve obtained through testing and the gathering of anecdotal information.  I then make recommendations based on your child’s ability to participate in his school environment.  I will make sure he has access to the playground, classroom, cafeteria, art room, music room, gymnasium, library, school bus, and field trips.   Here are some of things I will look at during my evaluation of your child:

  1. Reason for Referral:  During the initial meeting to review the referral, you and the team were given the opportunity to ask questions to gather information from both you and the classroom teacher.  At that meeting, the decision may have been made to go forward with additional evaluations to answer any remaining questions about how your child best learns. Once we obtained your permission to complete the evaluations and we had explained them to you, we got started.
  1. Classroom Observation:  If it has not been done already, I usually do a classroom observation to see your child in his natural environment.  I like to check in on the playground and perhaps with the specialist teachers (art, music, PE) to make sure I am not missing any areas that may be challenging for your child.  I always do a file review as well.
  1. Assessment and Evaluations:  I like to break my OT assessment and evaluation into two parts:  formal, standardized testing and more informal, observation type assessments.  Let’s look at the standardized portions first.
  • Standardized testing means that the evaluations we use were given to lots of children all across the country in the exact same format with the directions read in the exact same way each time.  These tests were then scored and “normed,” meaning that the researchers reached a conclusion that the majority of children who were say 6 years and 6 months old performed in a particular way and had a similar type of score.  They do some statistical work and reach conclusions based on thousands of children completing these assessments.  Therapists then use these tests to get data that will let us know how your child compares to other students all across the nation who are the same age.  You will see “scores” and lots of numbers.  These will reflect statistics that show how your child performs as compared to other children his age.  In our district we consider scores between the 25th and 75th percentile to be in the average range.  We also use standard scores or scaled scores, which are other statistical ways to show how your child performs as compared to other students his or her age.

 

  • Assessing and evaluating preschoolers can be challenging.  There are not a lot of standardized tests out there.   However, the Miller Assessment of Preschoolers (MAP) and the Movement ABC are two tests used by therapists to look at young children’s motor skills.
  • Another aspect of school-based OT is the assessment of sensory regulation.  The Sensory Profile and the Sensory Processing Measure are two common assessments that school therapists may use.  Another is the School Function Assessment (SFA).  Each provides checklists designed for the parent and teacher.
Sensory Profile 2
Sensory Profile 2

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all the standardized OT evaluations that are available.  It is meant to give you a quick overview and an awareness that the OTs in your school district may use some of these assessments or they may have other assessments that they prefer to use.  It truly is a personal preference.

In our district, in order to receive occupational therapy services, students must demonstrate delays in standardized test scores or delays in educationally-related functional skills, or both. Generally we need several subtest scores and the overall scores to be below the 25th percentile in order to qualify for services.  Areas of function that are educationally-related include:  fine motor and gross motor skills, sensory and sensorimotor performance, visual motor skills, oral motor skills, and self-help skills.  All those areas of function would be addressed through more informal assessments. Remember, we must always relate these skills back to your child’s access to education and the classroom or participation in the curriculum.   Let’s look at what the OT may look for when completing more informal assessments with your child.

Informal Assessments include:

  • pencil grip poor Foundry pixabayFine motor skills encompass the small motor muscles of the wrist and hand.  These are the skills we use when completing most precision tasks including buttoning, writing, and manipulating small objects in our hands.  Coordinated fine motor skills are dependent on adequate postural control as a strong core is essential to support the shoulder, arm, and hand movements.  Another area we look at is tactile discrimination.  This is our ability to understand what we are feeling through our hands without having to look at them.  Tactile discrimination is needed in order to manipulate small objects in a smooth and coordinated fashion.  OTs also look at writing, cutting, and coloring skills and how they are impacting the way your child “shows what he knows” in the classroom.
  • boy kungfoo carolkk pixabayGross motor skills in the classroom and school environment include walking, running, hopping, skipping, and playing on the outside equipment at recess as well as participation in PE class.  Motor planning allows your child to move in response to instructions, plan a motor response, and execute the motor action requested.
  • Visual motor skills are skills that require the coordination of the eyes, hands, and the body together in order to be successful.  These skills can include copying, coloring, handwriting, throwing a ball to a designated target, and catching a ball. The development of prewriting skills follows a sequential visual motor pattern that goes from learning to scribble, to coloring, to duplicating basic designs and shapes, and finally to actual writing and the formation of letters.
  • Visual perceptual skills are those that refer to the child’s ability to distinguish and determine differences in figures, designs, and letters (discrimination, spatial relations, form constancy) as well as his ability to remember individual designs and a series of designs (memory and sequential memory).  It also involves the child’s ability to pull out important information and clear away confusing background information (figure ground).  Visual spatial skills are important when completing math problems as math is a spatial concept (numbers on a grid, elapsed time, line segments).  Right and left discrimination skills as well as position in space are also important perceptual skills.
  • reading laterjay pixabayOcular motor skills refer to the movement of the eyes as a team.  This includes fixation (the ability to hold the eyes steady to look at objects), smooth pursuits (the ability to track a moving object across the midline and through the visual field), and saccadic eye movements (looking from one object to another).  Saccadic eye movements are necessary for reading and copying from the board.  Difficulties in this area can impact a child’s classroom performance especially in the area of fluid reading skills.

 

 

  • family backpacks geralt pixabayActivities of Daily Living (ADL) skills include dressing, eating, bathing and grooming, and caring for personal belongings.  Independently opening containers or baggies at snack or lunch is an important life skill.  Making sure their face and hands are clean helps students conform to the social mores of the school community.  Getting dressed in winter gear for recess in a timely manner is oh-so-important when there is fresh snow on the playground!  Here is an area where OTs can incorporate home concerns.   I always ask about extra curricular activities your child attends and how they are functioning there.  Another area that we discuss is their role, participation, and responsibilities in the home such as chores or caring for pets.
  • Sensory Processing or Sensory Modulation is an area that warrants its own separate assessment in my district.  It is an integral part of many students’ educational plans, especially for those students on the Autism Spectrum.  The occupational therapist will generally complete additional assessments to further clarify these areas if needed.  If you have concerns about your child’s sensitivities, please do not hesitate to bring them up with the school OT.

 

  1.  After completing an occupational therapy evaluation, the multidisciplinary team determines the student’s need for and level of educationally relevant services. Services are based on the needs of the student and include remediation (through direct or consultative services), adaptation, adaptive equipment, and consultation with school staff and parents.  I base my recommendation for services on many factors including:
  • the evaluation data,
  • the educational goals for the student’s level of instruction,
  • the student’s maturation and development,
  • the school environment,
  • the student’s chronological age,
  • collaboration with the educational personnel, and
  • the student’s classroom performance.

 

How are Occupational Therapy Services provided?  The occupational therapy service delivery is based on a program of specific therapeutic techniques.  Intervention is provided on a 1-to-1, small group, or classroom basis.  Treatment may occur in varied environments to best fit the child’s individual needs. These can include the therapy room, gym, playground, or classroom.  Consultation with the teacher, paraprofessionals, or parents may be included within the direct service time provided.  Additional consultation times may be included on an as-needed basis.  Consultation includes supervision, teaching, planning, and training with others to enhance the student’s optimal performance in the educational setting.

 

Under Section 504, students who have been diagnosed with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities AND have completed an occupational therapy evaluation that recommends therapy may be entitled to occupational therapy services as if they had IEP goals. This is considered regular education OT services and needs written parental permission just as any services being offered would require.

 

I hope this clears up and brings clarification to the occupational therapy evaluation and assessment process.  This is meant to be an overview and does not supersede the assessment and expertise of  your local school therapist.  Feeling comfortable with the process puts you in a good position to have a frank and honest discussion with your school-based occupational therapist about what you hope to get out of your child’s OT evaluation.  Feel empowered…and remember…YOU are the most important member of your child’s educational team!

 

Marie TooleMarie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at toolem@sau25.net.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 
 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  
Photos are the property of the author or site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.  

 

Occupational Therapy Evaluations in the School: How do they work?

The Special Education Process: How it works

meeting geralt pixabay

 

The Special Education Process:  How it works

by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L

on the School Tools From Your Pediatric   Occupational Therapist Blog

 

On the School Tools Blog I share information monthly with parents about how you can help your child.  This month we will discuss how to access services for your child if you have concerns about his development or academic achievement.  From birth to three years old, you as a parent have access to services through Early Intervention or EI services.  Generally, your pediatrician or health care provider can steer you towards access to services at this early age.  In the state I live in, New Hampshire, the state is divided into regions to best coordinate EI care.  Providers work for Area Agencies within those regions that get some state and federal funding.  Those agencies are responsible for evaluating and servicing children with developmental issues or delays in motor, speech, or social-emotional areas.  In your state, these agencies might be called something else but your pediatrician can help you access their services if they are warranted.

 

Once your child turns 3, your local public school system takes over the responsibility for these services.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are Federal laws that guarantee your child can get those services and will have access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) from age 3 until age 21.  As long as he continues to qualify under your school district’s regulations and guidelines, your child is entitled to services.   Ask for the Procedural Safeguards or your “parental rights” booklet which outlines your rights during the special education process and beyond if your child is identified as having an educational handicap.

classroom bulletin boards shannonmatthew pixabay

The obligation of a public school is to provide services for all children that meet their educational needs.  Under the Response to Intervention (RtI) model, there are three tiers of supports.  The first tier consists of supports that all students can access. These are essentially good teaching practices such as preferential seating or extra time.  After the student has been provided with these supports, the classroom teacher may have more concerns about the student’s needs and feel these kinds of support are not enough at this time.  The teacher can bring his concerns to the Child Concern Team (CCT) under the regular education model to get some additional supports.  This second tier is when some additional supports may be put into place.  An extra tutorial for reading, for example, or maybe the school team sees that your child qualifies for Title One services for math.  The Physical Therapist (PT), Occupational Therapist (OT), or Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) may consult with the classroom teacher to offer some additional supports to try.

If you continue to have concerns about your child’s academic success or development after these tier 2 supports have been tried, then

  • you as a parent can write a letter of referral,
  • your pediatrician can write a letter of referral for you, or
  • the classroom teacher can write a referral as well.

These letters of referral will spell out what your concerns are and may hypothesize what is happening.  In our district we use a specific form that asks for educational data such as district-wide test scores or all the supports that have been tried. This helps us narrow our focus to make sure we have all the information we need.  All of these situations will bring your child into Tier 3 supports and into the Special Education process.

signature edar pixabayOnce you enter the Special Education process, those federal laws (IDEA and NCLB) protect you and your child’s educational rights.  Certain timelines are now in effect which protect you and your child and ensure that a timely process occurs. Once the referral is written, the school district has 10 calendar days to respond to your request.  The school district should be setting up a meeting to discuss the referral within 14 days of that initial contact.  At that meeting, which is called the Referral Disposition, the team will decide what they want to do.  The team members who are integral to the questions asked in the initial referral should be invited to this meeting.  You as the parent are the most important person on the team.  Don’t forget that.  The school team cannot go ahead and do anything further without your written consent.  You should also get a written copy of notes that are taken at any meeting you have so you can refer back to any decisions that were made.

 

So who should be at that meeting?   You as the parent can ask for any team member to be present. Here are some suggestions:

  • The classroom teacher should always be present as he has the most current information as to how your child is progressing on a daily basis.
  • The special education teacher or case manager can also shed light on your child’s educational needs.
  • Someone representing the school district can attend, usually a member of its administrative team who can make decisions about special services.
  • For questions about your child’s academic skill acquisition or cognitive ability, ask the school psychologist or School Administer of Intellectual Function (SAIF) to be present.
  • If there are speech, language, or articulation concerns, ask the SLP to be there.
  • If there are motor concerns (gross or fine), invite the OT or PT.
  • If there are concerns about sensory processing, then ask the OT to attend.

If an invited team member cannot make the meeting time, then you as the parent need to be notified and given the option to reschedule if you want that person to be present.

What will happen next?  At the referral disposition meeting, the case manager will review thenoteboods pencil grip StartupStockPhotos Pixabay referral paperwork and the referral questions.  Invited team members will have done file reviews to share information we already have and hypothesize what additional information we might need.  This helps guide the team to make informed decisions.  After reviewing all of the information and asking you as the parent what your concerns are, the team will put forth a proposal.  There are generally three options they can make:

  1. The team members may decide it has enough information and does not need to do any further testing.
  2. The team members may decide that your child qualifies for supports and services under Section 504. This will require a different team of school personnel as this is considered a regular education support and has different requirements under federal law.
  3. The team members may decide to do further testing to clarify your child’s learning needs.

Remember, you as the parent are an integral member of the team.  Nothing can happen without your support and written permission.  If you do not understand or need additional time, please do not hesitate to ask questions at any time during the meeting. There may be many people around the table and this may be overwhelming.  You can also bring another person along for support.  Once the team puts forth a proposal, you always have 14 days to consider this proposal.  Do not feel you must sign anything in the meeting.  Take it home, think about it, discuss the information with others, and then make your decision.

If you decide to move ahead and complete additional evaluations for your child, you will need to sign a written permission.  This permission will state exactly what evaluations your child will be undergoing.  Ask how long each evaluation will take, how much class time your child will miss, and what the classroom teacher’s policy is for making up that missed work.  Once you sign permission for these evaluations, the clock starts ticking again.  The team has 45 calendar days to complete all of the evaluations and meet with you to discuss and review them.   You should receive a written copy of the evaluation results ideally one week prior to this meeting.  When you get your written report, read through it and mark it up with questions or concerns so you will be prepared for your meeting.

tutor meeting nrjfalcon1 pixabayAt the evaluation review meeting, each team member who evaluated your child will briefly review his evaluation results. Ask your questions and express your concerns.  Make sure you ask the classroom teacher if he sees the same kinds of things in the classroom.  Gather as much information as possible so that again you can make an informed decision.  This meeting is a great time to ask a friend or relative to assist you if it feels overwhelming.  Sometimes having another pair of ears to hear things is very helpful.  After hearing all of the information, the team will have lots of paperwork to review.

 

The next step is to decide if your child qualifies under the special education law for additional supports and services. There will probably be a deliberation form to go over and questions to be answered to see if your child qualifies for special education.  In our district, we have forms for each educational handicap with questions to help us delineate if your child meets the specific criteria needed.  Team members fill in each section with information from our evaluations that help us make conclusions based on fact.  These questions help us meet the requirements of the law and make sure we do not miss any pertinent information.  This is where the team, and you as the parent, decide how to best meet your child’s educational needs.  The team will put forth a proposal and you always have 14 days to make your decision.

If the team decides that your child does qualify for specialized instruction and you agree, your child will now be identified as a student with an educational handicap.  There are 8 possible educational handicaps in my state ranging from Specific Learning Disability (SLD), to Autism, to Other Health Impairment (OHI), as well as a few others.  The team is now responsible for writing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and will have 30 calendar days to write and present it to you. The IEP is a plan that will spell out exactly what the team proposes to work on over the course of the next year to help your child acquire the skills he needs at this time.  The IEP is a legal document that states what the school is obligated to provide for your child and should spell out the services he needs.

 

At the IEP meeting, the team will review long-term goals and the objectives to meet those goals along with the accommodations they will make to help your child be successful.  Even though it looks official, the IEP can be changed and amended at a moment’s notice.  If the team, and you as the parent, agree the the proposal is not working and needs to be changed, you can request a meeting to revise the plan.  When your child gets his regular report card, you should get a progress report on how he is doing and progressing towards those goals and objectives agreed to on the IEP.   At least once a year the team needs to convene and update the IEP goals and objectives.  At least every three years (or sooner), the team needs to consider whether or not additional testing is needed to continue eligibility for services.  As always, you as the parent are an integral member of the team.  Do not feel you are bothering us if you want to convene the team and discuss progress.  That is our job.  And it is your job to advocate for your child.

 

I hope this was helpful in delineating the roles and functions of the school team as well as the timelines for completing the special education process.  Look for my next blog that will review what an OT evaluation entails for your child.

 

Marie TooleMarie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at toolem@sau25.net.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 
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The Special Education Process: How it works