Unique Contribution of Occupational Therapy in the Evaluation Process
It is important to understand that, under special education law, the purpose of the occupational therapy evaluation is not to determine whether a child needs OT service*. Rather, the purpose of the initial team evaluation under IDEA is to:
1. Determine the presence of a disability & SpEd eligibility
2. Determine the educational needs of the student: to provide information that will help the team to better understand the student, their strengths and areas of need, learning style, and other useful information about the student.
*The IEP Team determines eligibility and whether OT services are necessary for the student to meet the prioritized IEP goals set forth for them and ultimately participate and progress in their educational program.
To this end, the occupational therapist, through the occupational therapy evaluation, contributes to and helps the team to better understand the child by providing information that is helpful to the teachers/parents and others who will be working with the student. The OT’s mission is to help the Team to understand the student; to help the Team to help the student.
The information that the occupational therapist brings to this meeting is important, whether or not the student is found eligible for SpEd and whether or not they will ultimately receive occupational therapy services in school. Occupational therapists have a unique perspective and understanding of a student that they can bring to the Team. This is an opportunity where the OT can make a difference for this student. Occupational therapists should take full advantage of their role in the evaluation and team process – especially if there is the chance that student will not be found eligible for special education. This may be the only opportunity to share the wealth of information that comes from the unique perspective the occupational therapist has in understanding the student.
Examples of information the occupational therapist may provide the Team about a student:
• -learning style
• -need for movement breaks
• -need for quiet space
• -sensory preferences
• -need for demonstration or model when learning new tasks
• -need for postural supports
• -strengths & areas of need
The OT Evaluation answers the question: How do I understand this student's participation needs given my unique perspective?
Critical sources of information in the evaluation include:
– Perspective of parent/teacher/student
– Contextual Observation
– Evaluation data