Baltimore-- A panel discussion this afternoon at the AOTA annual conference focused on how occupational therapists can help children with disabilities and their parents transition between different parts of their academic lives.
The opening part focused on the transition from early intervention to preschool. One of the major changes is the transition from the family-centered practice of EI, where the family's priorities help set the OT goals for the child, to the school-centered practice, where the classroom needs help set the OT goals. Although EI services formally end at three-years of age, the panelists recommended early intervention therapists have earlier, honest conversations with parents about children's expectations and the options for preschool education. "We look at all developmental domains and help parents make good decisions. Positive working relationships between service providers and family members is the most crucial factor in successful transitions to inclusive environments for children with disabilities," said Christine Myers, PhD, OTR/L, Eastern Kentucky University.
In the second part of the talk, speakers shared that parents of children with disabilities are more nervous than parents of typically developing peers about the transition from preschool to kindergarten. These fears are not unfounded. Unlike the EI to preschool move, which is governed by strict regulations, no laws oversee this big change for five-year-olds. Moving from the informal, learning-by-play environment of pre-K to the formal, structured environment of kindergarten, with larger class sizes, is a challenge for any young child, yet alone one with special needs.
Occupational therapists can ease this transition by seeking the collaboration of everyone the child will come into contact with--general education teachers, paraprofessionals, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, school administrators, and so on. One school district started a program called Jump Start in which the entering kindergarten class comes to school one week in August. The children meet their teachers and get familiar with the building and school routines in a safe, closed environment. Just as with the early transition, positive communication between OTs and parents is paramount to helping these kids move successfully onto the next phase of their education.