Every other year, the number of students who have disabilities is increasing in post-secondary school education. These kids are not supposed to be denied the chance to attend school. However, the fact that there are not so many good systems in place to make their academic life better and more comfortable as it is for their counterparts means that the educational system is actually locking them out systematically, at times without knowing it.

Some of these students end up settling for other alternatives in college, while for most of them, they have to complete their academics much later in life when their peers will already be working on other things in their lives.

The role of an occupational therapist in the lives of such students is immense. It is important to work with them through these experiences, help them realize that all is not lost just yet. Students with developmental or intellectual disabilities can actually work with a therapist to overcome their challenges and get through school just like their peers.

People with disabilities should have equal rights and equal access to the public programs and services. However, if we are to assist these students in learning like their peers, we have to do more to help each of them at a personal level, and that is where an occupational therapist comes in. We have to cater to their needs as individuals, and this is why occupational therapy is necessary.

The need for occupational therapy for students

Anyone who has been through the post-secondary school system can attest to the fact that these courses, environments, and activities will often bring about new demands for students with disabilities. These demands can manifest in various forms, including social, independent living, academic, vocational or even mobility challenges for the students.

Individuals who are planning on attending some of these education programs are therefore supposed to consider visiting occupational therapists to share some of their fears about the prospect of new changes in their lives. The therapist has a unique knowledge base that will be helpful to support such individuals. It is important to be prepared ahead of such changes in life, to be better equipped to deal with the culture shock that comes after.

The therapist has a broader understanding of how developmental disabilities, injury or illness could affect the ability of the student to participate in different activities in school. Other than that, they are also able to address some of the psychosocial, sensory, cognitive and physical challenges that the student will go through.

As an occupational therapist, the expertise in task analysis makes it easier to help a student match their individual skills to the tasks that they are supposed to do. In order to enable participation, there are situations where assistive technology could be used, and at times this calls for the need to modify the student’s environment to enable participation in the different activities that they are to perform.

As a part of the high school transition plan, an occupational therapist can help a student prepare for post-secondary education. Other than those who are preparing to join post-secondary education, those who are already enrolled but are struggling in some way can also benefit from sessions with an expert.

Therapists are able to help such students through the following ways:

  • Encouraging the development of self-advocacy and self-determination skills early in life to help the students understand their strengths, special needs and any useful support systems available to them.
  • Helping the students explore the support programs and accommodations available to them in the course of the transition period between schools.
  • Helping the students understand their rights and responsibilities with respect to academic accommodations, self-disclosure, and access to support systems in different school settings.
  • Fostering and teaching independence regarding self-care and management of assistive technology, adaptive equipment, and general health related issues.
  • Making assistive technology and adaptive equipment available to the students so that this can help support their full independence and participation in the daily activities in school.
  • Working with the student and those around them such as the family and teachers to come up with reasonable accommodation necessary to help the student participate in school activities.
  • Coaching the students to develop productive habits and routines which will promote effective time management, organization, social interaction and a host of skills they need to interact with those around them.

As a result of their professional background, therapists are therefore able to develop universal supports, or in some cases, custom individual support systems and accommodation for the student, to help them not only participate, but also succeed in the post-secondary school programs.

The therapist will provide consultative or direct services for these students. The occupational therapist, therefore, forms an important part of the transition team that helps students who are using individualized education programs.