Many students with autism spectrum disorder experience difficulty with coordination, visual and hand motor skills, and sensory processing. Occupational therapy is offered for our Academy360 students who require this service as part of their IEP. Our OT staff, employees of AJL Therapy for Kids, is embedded at A360 Lower and Upper Schools and are an integral part of the Academy360 team.

Pediatric occupational therapists can help your child grow stronger, more coordinated, and improve his/her confidence in performing everyday activities. If your child has trouble with skill acquisition, coordination and dexterity, and other day-to-day functions, OT can help. Occupational therapists must be graduates of accredited educational programs and comply with rules of licensure, registration and practice as applicable in any state in which they are practicing.

With Spectum360’s focus on the “whole individual,” for those students who need it, occupational therapy is an important part of the school day at Academy360. Typically, occupational therapy is identified as part of the IEP from the student’s sending school district and is carried out at Academy360.

We recently talked to occupational therapist Michele Homa to learn more about Academy360’s OT program:

What does a school-based pediatric occupational therapist do?

“It is the activities we engage in on a day to day basis that make us who we are.” ~ Shoshanna Shear, OTR.

This quote is a good reflection of what a school-based occupational therapist does. Our job is to help our students better participate in their everyday life. In a school setting, our students may have difficulty with play, self-care, written communication, prevocational skills, and sensory processing. School-based occupational therapists assess students in the classroom, playground, and physical environment. They look for deficits in multiple areas including motor development, fine motor coordination, visual motor, and visual perceptual skills and sensory processing skills using standardized testing. This might include decreased strength and grasp, difficulty opening /closing buttons, containers, and packages, or an aversion to certain foods, textures, materials. This information is used to create meaningful therapeutic interventions, functional adaptations and purposeful activities that are fun and motivating for each child!

What are some of the differences in treating students in A360 Lower School vs. A360 Upper School?

Young boy practicing handwriting
Handwriting practice helps build fine motor skills.

Occupational therapists in both A360 Lower School and A360 Upper School continue to evaluate the unique needs of each student. In the Lower School, the OTs look at various skill sets focusing on the acquisition of developmental skills. We use games, crafts and motivating activities to facilitate the skills being addressed. As students transition into middle school, we begin to focus on higher-level skill acquisition, self-regulation, prevocational and organizational skills. In the Upper School, the OTs focus on the student’s transitional stage from teenager to young adult. The Upper School student will use the developmental skills they have already mastered to enhance the self-care and prevocational skills they need for work and community-based experiences.

An example of this process at work: in elementary school the student’s OT program might include working on developing age-appropriate grasp and pinch skills; in middle school the student will work on improving the coordination and dexterity of those hand skills to fasten buttons, manipulate coins or use a hole punch; in high school they will use those functional hand skills for more complex tasks on the job such as packaging cutlery, collating papers, stocking shelves.

Where do OT and PT overlap?

OT and PT work hand-in-hand to help our students successfully participate in the school setting. We share the goal of greater independence at school and home by helping our students build foundational skills they need in their daily lives such as strength, coordination, and visual-motor skills. While there can be an overlap of activities between the two disciplines, the rationale, reasoning, and focus of each discipline does differ. For example, a PT can be working on strengthening as it relates to the student’s mobility and endurance throughout the school day whereas the OT can work on strengthening as it relates to the student’s ability to complete written work appropriately at his/her desk or maintain upright sitting posture. We work together to help the body/mind function at its best potential.

What are the best parts of working as a school-based Occupational Therapist?

Young boy practicing yoga.
Practicing yoga helps promote concentration and self-calming behavior.

The best part of working as a school-based occupational therapist is the ability that we have to be creative while simultaneously implementing evidence-based practice. We have the opportunity to be part of a team and work with other therapists, teachers, staff and family members to develop and achieve personalized goals for each student. Each student has the potential to achieve and succeed. It is very rewarding to watch our Academy360 students work towards their goals and feel proud of their accomplishments. One student said “OT is work disguised as fun” and we are proud of that!

How can occupational therapy help a child?

Facilitating development through play, supporting academic performance and self-help skills, assessing sensory processing needs, participating in work and helping kids have fun are all activities and interventions used by pediatric occupational therapists. Pediatric occupational therapists can help your child grow stronger, more coordinated and improve his/her confidence in performing everyday activities. No skill is too big or too small! Occupational therapists will empower your child to reach the highest level of independence possible. If you notice your child struggling to keep up with peers during play, has difficulty writing letters, opening buttons, putting together a puzzle or demonstrates delays in mastering typical activities, contact the Occupational Therapy staff at A360.

Michele Homa, MA, OT is a graduate of NYU and has worked in a variety of clinical settings. For the last 18 years, she has worked solely in pediatrics, first as a supervisor of OT/PT services for both Livingston Services Corporation (a pediatric division of St. Barnabas Hospital) and currently for AJL Therapy For Kids. Michele is certified as a Level 1, Advanced Mentored Clinician in Sensory Processing Disorders, having completed the Advanced Intensive Mentorship from the Sensory Processing Foundation in Colorado. She has extensive training in advanced therapy techniques including The Listening Program, Yoga for special needs children and Handwriting without Tears.