The number of students benefiting from occupational therapy in New York City’s public schools is rising, reports The New York Times. Occupational therapy (OT) is a broad set of therapies that encourage individuals to develop skills that can improve their daily lives, benefiting stroke victims, people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and individuals with other disabilities. For students in New York’s schools, OT is helping them focus in class, improve their handwriting, and better control their movements.
The number of students receiving OT services across the nation has increased in recent years. In New York City public schools, nearly 42,000 students were referred to receive OT—a 30 percent increase in the last four years. Los Angeles schools saw a 30 percent increase of OT referrals in the last five years. Chicago had a 20 percent increase in the last three years.
Several factors account for the rise in OT services, including new perspectives on integrating special-needs students into mainstream classrooms and more intense academic demands on younger students. One of the most salient reasons OT is on the rise is that there are increasing numbers of special needs students, especially students with ASD. City officials in New York report that growing numbers of students with ASD is the main reason for the growth in OT in their schools.
OT interventions are a different for each student. Some students need interventions to pay attention during class, while others need help learning multi-step tasks. For example, a child might write on a slanted binder to improve his handwriting skills. Other students may struggle with movement or sitting still in class, so they do core exercises.
In New York City, occupational therapists observe all kindergarteners in a classroom setting to determine which students might benefit from OT services. Although this strategy has the potential to aid more students, some experts are critical of the approach because it requires significant resources: lots of occupational therapists and a lot of money. New York City’s special education budget grew from $38 million five years ago $58 million today.
Despite the cost, New York City’s OT program is proving beneficial to students. More students are refining their motor skills and participating in inclusive classrooms. It is too early to tell how this high-intensity therapy approach will benefit New York City’s students in the long-term, but for now, many parents report that their children have become better students.
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