What is Occupational Therapy?


An occupational therapist (OT) is a professional who helps people of all ages to improve their ability to perform activities of daily living and work or school tasks. A certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) is a professional who works under the supervision of an OT implementing treatment plans to help individuals attain established therapy goals. All OTs and COTAs are college graduates who have passed a national certification examination in order to be granted national registration. In Michigan, OTs and COTAs are also required to maintain state licensure.

School-Based Occupational Therapy


In the school setting, OTs use therapeutic activities and strategies to promote developmental, academic, and social-emotional readiness. School-based occupational therapy (OT) is limited to addressing the obstacles interfering with attaining academic goals. The following areas illustrate where an OT, as part of the individualized educational planning (IEP) team, may be helpful in supporting children with special needs:

  • Manipulation of School-Related Tools and Materials:  A combination of attention, visual and motor skills for efficient manipulation of classroom materials such as writing utensils, erasers, tape, glue, scissors, staplers, pencil sharpeners, etc.
  • Movement and Postural Control: Motor skills for combining movements necessary for control and coordination in the educational environment.
  • Assistive Technology: Use of low, mid and high tech tools to support students’ ability to access educational tasks.
  • Self-Help: Management of personal care needs at school including: feeding, lunch room management, dressing, toileting, etc.
  • Sensory-Processing: Addressing a student’s ability to process stimuli that they receive from their school environment including their ability to attend to and follow through with tasks, as well as being able to adapt to school and classroom demands.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • Who Is Eligible for School-Based Occupational Therapy?
    • Students ages 0-26 who are eligible for special education services may receive OT as a related service following an OT evaluation and determination of need based on educational relevance.
  • How Is Eligibility Determined?
    • OTs perform evaluations to assist the diagnostic team in determining special education eligibility as well as qualification for occupational therapy services. Therapists use standardized testing functional assessments, parent/teacher input, and observation to determine a student’s ability to access and participate in the educational curriculum.
  • What is the difference between school-based OT and services provided in an outpatient/medical setting?
    • OT in the school-based setting addresses obstacles interfering with educational performance. Outpatient OT is broader in scope and addressed people of all ages, focusing on gaining independence across a variety of settings.
  • My child has a prescription for occupational therapy.  Can he/she get OT services at school?
    • A physician’s referral does not guarantee that a student will qualify to receive school-based OT. While a doctor’s prescription may substantiate OT within a medical model (in-patient or out-patient therapy), a students’ school performance is what drives eligibility for a special education service.