The Role of School-Based Occupational Therapy

An occupational therapist is a health care provider who focuses on the improvement of the patient’s life quality and health through the facilitation of his or her participation in various meaningful occupations. For instance, if a person has an injury, an occupational therapist assists in activities to help this person to return to his or her daily routine. The purpose of this paper is to review critically three scholarly articles dedicated to school-based occupational therapy services in order to evaluate their role in the academic environment.

In the present day, collaborative consultation is frequently adopted in the practice of school-based occupational therapy. However, the conceptual understanding of this collaboration’s relevance for educationally appropriate outcomes of students with disabilities is substantially limited (Villeneuve, 2009). Villeneuve (2009) synthesized and critically evaluated the research literature dedicated to collaborative consultation and school-based occupational therapy “to provide program administrators with direction for critically examining decision making for service delivery in their districts” (p. 206). Despite the differences in legislation in the United States and Canada concerning the involvement of occupational therapists in the school system, the significance of these professionals for education is impossible to deny (Villeneuve, 2009). Within the academic environment, occupational therapy contributes to the development of individual education plans, supports students with disabilities, and addresses their functional and educational goals.

At the same time, the specific challenges that complicate the collaboration between occupational therapists and educators may be observed. They traditionally include:

  • the ambiguity of expectations and roles among service providers;
  • professional difficulties such as personnel shortages, heavy caseloads, and professional isolation;
  • the occupational therapists’ pre-service preparation for performance in school settings;
  • the pre-service preparation of both occupational therapists and educators for the delivery of collaborative consultations;
  • occupational therapy recommendations’ insufficient educational relevance (Villeneuve, 2009).

According to the findings of the research, the successful collaboration between occupational therapists and educators require several main conditions. First of all, all specialists should spend more time together and clarify their roles to each other. The major barriers that make the implementation of collaborative consultation considerably problematic include a lack of time for meeting and a lack of understanding “of how therapy services help students to progress academically” (Villeneuve, 2009, p. 212). Moreover, educators frequently expect from occupational therapists the constant presence in school settings, the involvement in the educational process, and the participation in the development of educational plans.

This article refers to the development and implementation of the Partnering for Change model for children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD). In general, DCD may be defined as a chronic health condition that substantially increases the risk of anxiety, depression, obesity, and decreased physical fitness if appropriate support is not provided (Missiuna, et al., 2012). In turn, the Partnering for Change model is innovative, “empirically-derived school health service delivery model for children with DCD” (Missiuna, et al., 2012, p. 41).

This approach implies the collaboration of educators, occupational therapists, and parents to improve the quality of life for children with DCD and change their daily environment. Occupational therapists focus on collaboration with coaching teachers to enhance their skills in order to recognize, accommodate, and support children with DCD in their classrooms (Missiuna, et al., 2012). This collaboration includes several steps – the general understanding of DCD, differentiation, and accommodation (Missiuna, et al., 2012). In other words, educators and occupational therapists identify the general peculiarities of the disorder, focus on small groups of students to correct their knowledge, and develop an individual approach to every child.

In her article, Case-Smith (2002) describes the conducted research that aimed to investigate the influence of occupational therapy on the improvement of students’ handwriting. In general, the illegibility of handwriting may be regarded as a considerably serious issue as “a teacher may interpret the student’s written responses as incorrect or as an indication of noncompliance” (Case-Smith, 2002, p. 17). The research implied the evaluation of the results of school-based occupational therapy received by students during the academic year. Visual-perception, in-hand manipulation, visual-motor, and the speed and legibility of handwriting were measured at the beginning and end of the experiment (Case-Smith, 2002). According to the results of the study, the students who received occupational therapy services substantially improved their handwriting in comparison with children who were not involved in the program.

In general, all authors emphasize the significance of occupational therapy and its presence in school settings to address the needs of students with difficulties or disabilities. However, while Villeneuve and Missiuna, et al. describe the approaches to efficient help for students that imply the collaboration between educators and occupational therapists, Case-Smith underlines the exclusive efficacy of school-based occupational therapy services. It goes without saying that the students’ serious and chronic disabilities and disorders require the consolidated efforts of teachers and therapists. At the same time, Villeneuve and Missiuna, et al. refer to opposite methods of collaboration’s improvement. Villeneuve states that occupational therapists should adopt to the educational process and define their responsibilities to educators. In turn, Missiuna, et al. emphasize the equality in the collaborative approach and the significance of the occupational therapists’ competency that helps educators to improve their capacities in the context of education for students with special needs.


Case-Smith, J. (2002). Effectiveness of school-based occupational therapy intervention on handwriting. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56, 17–25. Web.

Missiuna, C. A., Pollock, N. A., Levac, D. E., Campbell, W. N., Sahagian Whalen, S. D., Bennett, S. M., Hecimovich, C., Gaines, R., Cairney, J., & Russell, D. J. (2012). Partnering for Change: An innovative school-based occupational therapy service delivery model for children with developmental coordination disorder. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79, 41-50. Web.

Villeneuve, M. (2009). A critical examination of school-based occupational therapy collaborative consultation. Revue Canadienne D’ErgothĂ©rapie: NumĂ©ro SpĂ©cial – Influencer La Politique, 76, 206-218.

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ChalkyPapers. "The Role of School-Based Occupational Therapy." October 10, 2023.