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When OTs Wore White Shoes

The Stigma of Riding the Little Yellow School Bus

Published October 13, 2014 3:53 PM by Debra Karplus
 The legislation of the mid-1970s that mainstreamed students with special needs into general education classroom in public schools brought with it the little yellow school bus.  Is there any child older than about third grade that isn't aware of the mini-bus?  It arrives and leaves school at a different time than the regular busses, and often loads and unloads at a separate location; the kids who ride it are considered "special".  Whether a student is a mini-bus passenger or gets to school by a more traditional way, most kids in upper elementary grades know the difference.

In the early years of occupational therapists working with children in schools, pulling the student out of class to receive OT services was the norm.  Whether you were working on fine motor skills and handwriting or gross motor skills, your typically overcrowded school had some little corner in the building, perhaps under a stairwell, in a hallway, or some tiny seldom-used room such as an old janitor's closet, where you could provide your occupational therapy services.  Pull-out services had their advantages, especially if your therapy goals were focused on gross motor or even some sensory issues.

Soon, occupational therapists along with special educators figured out that "push-in" services had some real benefits.  No longer were you trying to schedule an optimal time for your student, who was already struggling with some of their schoolwork to miss valuable time spent in the classroom so that they could work with you, the OT.  With push-in services you could coordinate with the classroom teacher the best time to work on OT goals in class.  If your student in third grade, for example, was having difficulty lining up the numbers to be successful with long division, you could be in the classroom sitting beside him or her and coming up with techniques to make this task easier.

Similarly, gross motor skills could be addressed by working with the school child on your caseload during physical education classes, or adapted PE groups.

Whether we work with our school-based clients within the classroom or pull out for our services, we as caring professionals need to be sensitive to the needs of these students to minimize having them feel different or embarrassed.  What are some ways we can do this?

For students receiving pull-out OT services, they can be given a written schedule of when they work with you each week and learn to take initiative to arrive at their "appointment" with you on time.  Taking ownership for following their own schedule is an important skill for all students to develop.

When you work in the classroom with a student, they too should know when to expect you each week.  Perhaps you tiptoe into class at your scheduled time and head to the kidney-shaped table present in most classrooms, and your student will know to bring his schoolwork and join you for some help.

What are some ways that you keep your school-based patients from being embarrassed by receiving OT services?

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posted by Debra Karplus


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