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Our schools need occupational therapists


Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province without occupational therapists in schools.

Striking, isn’t it? Even more so, given that occupational therapy is cited as essential in recognized models of service delivery for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

There are more than 1,000 students in the K-12 system in our province with an autism diagnosis, and nearly 400 pre-schoolers.

What does an occupational therapist do? They are health professionals that help people with specific activities that make up their daily life, including self-care routines, leisure activities, school and/or work-related tasks.

For people with ASD, the combination of sensory, motor, communication, social and behavioural challenges often creates barriers to participation.

Occupational therapists use expertise in emotional regulation, sensory processing, behavioural regulation and motor development to identify appropriate strategies that move students with ASD towards greater independence and increased participation in daily routines.

In a society that is focused on models of inclusion, occupational therapists can help all students reach their full, independent, potential, not just students with autism.

These health professionals provide insight into a wide range of techniques that help kids with their attention, appropriate behaviour, motor skill development, mental health concerns and appropriate sensory responses.

From classroom design, visual instructions, modified activities, fidget toys and even clothing adaptations, occupational therapists have a large tool box that can help teachers, parents and students build a successful educational experience.

Many people with autism have difficulty processing everyday sensory information (sights, sounds, smells, touch).

Imagine how much sensory input takes place in a school: slamming locker doors, bright lights, classmates chatting, bells, chairs moving, walking in crowded hallways, the smell of food in the cafeteria.

Now imagine that each of these is 10 times louder and brighter. How distracted and uncomfortable would you be?

Occupational therapists can recommend environmental accommodations that help minimize negative reaction to sensory inputs that are often the source of students discomfort and behaviour impeding their success at school.

Occupational therapy is proven to level the playing field for school children.

Providing occupational therapy in schools is a critical component in the realization of a successful inclusive schools model.

Due to the complex needs of people with ASD, multiple professional disciplines are required.

Our province needs to recognize the benefit of multidisciplinary approaches to achieving positive health and education outcomes.

The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists says missed or delayed opportunities for early intervention in environments such as schools put children at risk for developing lifelong issues affecting productivity, social and leisure skills.

According to a pediatric occupational therapist, the whole purpose of school-based occupational therapy is to help kids succeed.

Across Canada, governments have provided funding for school-based occupational therapy for many years, in recognition of the unique role they play in the education system. It’s time that Newfoundland and Labrador do the same.

Tess Hemeon,

manager of advocacy

and communications

Autism Society of

Newfoundland and Labrador

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