Occupational therapy for special-needs students moves online

OT helps students build “foundational skills” that affect their ability to function throughout the school day, says occupational therapist Robyn Chu. These can include posture, core strength, visual perception, sensory processing, and handwriting or other fine motor skills.

Chu says all of the exercises that OTs use with students in a face-to-face setting “can happen in a virtual environment,” too.

For example, a common OT practice involves modeling correct behaviors or techniques for students. An OT and his or her student might both be sculpting putty at the same time, and the OT can demonstrate the activity first and then walk the student through its proper execution.

Other exercises involve games that students can play on a computer—such as navigating an online maze by manipulating the cursor on their screen to practice fine motor skills.

PresenceLearning has been piloting the service with an initial cohort of about 10 online OTs, all of whom have a master’s degree in their field. These therapists have access to the company’s content management system, which includes a repository of online activities they can use with students—and OTs can upload activities they’ve developed themselves, for use by anyone else.

The company announced its new online OT service in what it called a “soft launch” during the Texas Computer Education Association conference in February, and it expects a full rollout of the service to schools this fall.

Whitehead says the service is priced at an hourly rate that “matches or beats the local rate” for OTs in a school district’s area.

“This is … about providing more flexible access” to OT services for students and the schools that serve them, he says, adding that some older students might appreciate the privacy that comes with having OT delivered online.

PresenceLearning will ship all materials needed for the exercises to the student’s school; all the student needs is a computer with a webcam and internet access.

The Columbia Basin Health Association, which serves a rural area of Washington state, has struggled to provide reliable OT services to local families, says Leo Gaeta, program director for early intervention services. Therapists often have to drive a few hours to meet with students, and if the weather is spotty, they might have to cancel appointments.

“We were looking for a model of care that would complement the needs of our families,” Gaeta says.

He says CBHA officials initially had some concerns about how well OT services would translate in an online environment—but the families of children in the program have embraced it.

They “appreciate not having to travel” to receive service, Gaeta notes, adding: “We’re happy with the way the program is working for us.”

Follow eSchool News Editor in Chief Dennis Pierce on Twitter at @eSN_Dennis.

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