Roles of School Therapists: Speech, Physical & Occupational

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

There are so many different professionals who can work within a school setting. This lesson introduces you to the roles of speech, physical and occupational therapists and discusses ways they work with teachers, students and families.

Therapists in Schools

Ms. Carson is a new second-grade teacher at Hadley Elementary School. She has met all of her teaching colleagues and administrators, but she is also beginning to understand that there are many other professionals working at the school with her. Her mentor teacher explains that some of these people are speech therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists whose support will be invaluable to Ms. Carson and some of her students. Ms. Carson asks her mentor to help her understand more about what the different kinds of therapists do.

Speech Therapists

Ms. Carson learns that speech therapists, sometimes called speech and language pathologists, help students who struggle with different parts of expressive and receptive language. She discovers that these experts can be helpful in so many different ways.

Student Support

The speech therapists at Ms. Carson's school offer screenings for students who seem to be struggling with listening, speaking, reading and writing. They sometimes push into classrooms to provide support for these students, and they can be helpful in writing IEPs, or individualized education programs, that touch on language. Speech therapists also pull students out of the classroom for one-on-one or small group work oriented toward helping them become stronger speakers, listeners, readers, and writers. They also are experts at different disabilities and obstacles that may get between a student and success in language-based tasks.

Teacher Support

Over time, Ms. Carson learns that speech therapists can support her practice by helping her modify lessons to be accessible to all students in the class regardless of language abilities. They can also help her understand what is going on when a student seems not to understand something.

Family Support

Finally, the speech therapists at Hadley Elementary communicate with parents about their students' needs and challenges. They give parents ideas for supporting their children's language development and extending the work of the school in the home environment.

Occupational Therapists

Next, Ms. Carson learns about the work of occupational therapists. These specialists help students with fine motor and sensory issues that get in the way of their schoolwork and functioning.

Student Support

Some of Ms. Carson's students seem to need a lot of sensory input to stay calm. Others struggle with holding their pencils properly and have poor handwriting as a result. Ms. Carson learns that occupational therapists will screen these students to figure out what is going on with them. The occupational therapists push into the classroom or pull students out to provide therapies that help students develop their fine motor skills and their ability to cope with sensory challenges.

Teacher Support

The occupational therapists at Hadley Elementary also help Ms. Carson by offering suggestions for things to have students do to keep their hands busy and help their bodies feel calm during class. They offer handwriting exercises that Ms. Carson can incorporate into her writing instruction.

Family Support

Families often struggle to understand sensory and fine motor challenges, which can get in the way of behavior at home and the ability to eat properly, get dressed independently, and even play happily. Occupational therapists help families understand what is going on with their kids and provide support to make these and other tasks easier in the home environment.

Physical Therapists

Lastly, Ms. Carson meets the physical therapists at her school. These professionals help students with movement and gross motor issues, as well as struggles with spatial awareness, or a strong sense of how their bodies move in space.

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