A collaborative approach is key to helping children with disabilities overcome barriers to accessing education and perform to the best of their abilities.
In our work with school districts throughout northern New Jersey, we’ve found consistently that the best results are achieved when our professionals (e.g., speech therapists, physical therapists, board-certified behavioral analysts, etc.) work as integral parts of a trans-disciplinary team of teachers and paraprofessionals, all focused on each child’s unique developmental needs.
Our conclusions are borne out by research reported in the February 2019 issue of OT Practice, a publication of The American Occupational Therapy Association. Increasingly, teams of professionals with expertise in a wide range of disciplines are collaborating to address the needs of the growing numbers of children with autism spectrum disorder who attend public school. The research shows collaboration works.Through this kind of collaborative approach, children with ASD not only access education and learn; they become more fully integrated in the classroom and other school environments – and thus can participate more fully in school life.
Collaboration is at the very heart of what we do with our school-based therapy services. Our company is built on a collaborative model, and it’s what we excel at.
Our own trans-disciplinary team can go into a school district, program-plan with administrators, engage all of the expertise resident in the school district along with our own, and together provide whatever services are needed to enable each child achieve the desired educational goals.
With many school districts, we’re initially called upon to provide one particular service. As they get to know us, they might call on us to provide more – or even all – of our services, and over time we become active team members, collaborating every step of the way for the students we’re serving.
We’re part of the IEP process for each child we serve, responsible for writing the goals and objectives for our section of the student’s IEP and monitoring their IEP progress four times a year. Often we’re asked to collaborate with teachers in developing educational goals.
We also help draw parents in as team members. We listen to the parents’ concerns and work with them to achieve their goals for their children, as well as the school’s goals.
In a recent example, a North Jersey public school district wanted to create its own autistic preschool class, so our SBTS team professionals went to work – occupational, physical and speech therapists, along with a behavioral analyst – and collaborated with and trained the teachers and the paraprofessionals to implement an effective program.
Now, our professionals and the district’s educators are running this program for the students in-house, which allows the township to keep those students in the district, as opposed to sending them away to a costly private school. Plus, the district is providing the students the same exact service – if not a better service than that of a private school. Additionally, students can enjoy the benefits of attending their familiar neighborhood school, mainstream with peers, and participate in extracurricular activities.
New Jersey law mandates that children be maintained in the least restrictive environment, one that provides all of the supports necessary for each child to access education and learn. In our experience, when our professionals collaborate with a school district’s professionals toward that common goal, it improves the child’s outcomes.
Autism and OT: Collaborating to Support Participation in the Classroom. AOTA OT Practice, February 2019.