Occupational Therapy and School Mental Health
What Is School Mental Health, and How Does It Impact Student Success? Mental health can be defined as “…a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). School mental health can be defined as any mental health service or support provided in a school setting (Kutash, Duchnowski, & Lynn, 2006). Children need to develop positive interaction skills and appropriate classroom behavior so they can successfully participate in school. School is the place where children learn academics and develop social-emotional skills by making and keeping friends, coping with feelings and stress, learning to self-advocate, and interacting in groups. Some children may have difficulty interacting with peers or maintaining self-control, leading to problems in making and keeping friends and paying attention in the classroom. Sometimes these problems are due to a mental illness and sometimes the cause of the troublesome behaviors is not clear. In order for a child to demonstrate appropriate classroom behavior, he or she may benefit from helpful routines for planning and organizing personal materials, tasks, and activities in order to pay attention and participate in activities with educators and classmates.
What Is Occupational Therapy, and How Do Services Address Students’ Mental Health Needs? In schools, occupational therapy practitioners support students to succeed in their daily routines including classroom, playground, lunchroom, and extracurricular activities. An occupational therapy practitioner has a strong foundation in human development and activity participation. Occupational therapy practitioners have specialized knowledge and skills in • social and emotional learning and regulation; • task analysis, including sensory, motor, cognitive, and social components; • assistive technology; and • activity and environmental modifications. Occupational therapy practitioners support a student’s transition between activities, and from grade to grade and school
to school by helping build the capacity for school success through the development of study skills, self-care independence, problem-solving abilities, social skills, and vocational interests. Occupational therapy practitioners address the sensory needs of students as well as the aspects within the school environment that impact learning. Occupational therapy services are used to help children develop productive habits and routines that support their physical, intellectual, and emotional health and growth. When children’s abilities are well matched with the demands of an activity and the environment where they live, learn, and play, they can better cope with challenges and succeed in a variety of school activities. Occupational therapy practitioners offer direct services to individuals and small groups, as well as interventions for whole classrooms. They also offer consultation to and collaboration with the entire school team (e.g., social workers, nurses, guidance counselors, speech-language pathologists) to support a student’s learning, daily living skills, play and leisure activities, and beginning work skills. In addition, occupational therapy practitioners are often key members of child and adolescent mental health teams.
How Do Occupational Therapy Practitioners Collaborate With the School Team? Occupational therapy practitioners support and collaborate with all members of the school team, including parents. They can help team members identify and implement modifications to activities and environments. These modifications may increase the potential for successful student participation in the classroom or in extracurricular activities.
Occupational therapy practitioners are...