The process of receiving support from an occupational therapists
When to make a referral
Occupational therapists can support children with a large variety of skills. If you’re not sure what an occupational therapist is, you can learn more here in this article – What is a children’s occupational therapist? Common things a therapist might help with in the classroom include handwriting, poor independence with self care skills like dressing, dyspraxia and sensory processing differences. Students who is struggle to pay attention because they can’t stay seated in their seat, or are so clumsy that they can’t hold their pencil correctly are the ones that OTs can help. Student who’s motor skills are delayed and behind their peers could be referred. Or, students with sensory processing differences the classroom could also receive support.
Making a referral
The process of making a referral to a therapist varies depending on location. Even within the same country, for example the UK, the process is different in different areas. You will need to research where the service is and what their process for referral is. Often, school can refer. Usually, parents and GPs can also make the referral.
Some departments request that you have tried their package of recommendations before you make the referral. If this is the case, they will request that you demonstrate evidence of using recommended strategies when you submit the referral. The school SENCO will usually have a good understanding of the local process.
Some parents will choose to see a private therapist. This typically costs upwards of £350 for an assessment, so it is not an option that is open to many families. If families do want to proceed privately in the UK they can check the private practice register to locate a local therapist.
Equipment is a different process
In the UK, equipment like seating or wheelchairs is typically provided by a different department (Social Services rather than NHS). So, in some cases there may be two different therapists involved.
What happens once a referral is made to the occupational therapist
This depends whether the referral has been sent privately or publicly. It will also vary hugely depending on the area the child lives in.
If the family has gone down the private route, they will typically have an appointment within 3 months. This typically results in a report which will outline the students strengths and challenges. There may be an attached programme of support ideas. Or, the recommendations will be included within the report. Often, additional therapy sessions are recommended. Again, the parent will need to pay for these and sessions usually start from £70.
Public assessments and support
Within the UK this varies widely again depending on location. In some areas, the therapist will come into school and hold trouble shooting meetings with the SENCO or teacher. Other areas will provide assessments in clinic. Sometimes, there is a specific therapist attached to specific schools, in other areas there is not. Often there is a waiting list. NHS benchmarking data indicates the average of an 85 day wait to see a community occupational therapist. However, if school has been required to gather evidence of using universal strategies prior to referral in reality this wait is much longer. Parents also routinely report waiting for six months to a year.
Typically, following assessment a summary of recommendations is provided. Sometimes, the student will receive one to one support and in some areas the run groups. Often, the student’s programme will be provided for school staff to run and it will be updated termly or annually.