How School OTs Can Be Valued Members of Multidisciplinary Special Education Teams
School-based OTs wear many hats – from providing occupational therapy services directly to students to collaborating with multidisciplinary teams on how to best help those students thrive. To be successful, OTs can develop an understanding of the multidisciplinary team approach and strengthen their skills in playing an active role on these teams.
Here's a Q&A on what multidisciplinary special education teams do, why they're important, who's on them, what role OTs play, and how OTs can be valuable participants on these teams.
What do special education multidisciplinary teams do?
In special education, multidisciplinary teams collaborate on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), 504 Plans, Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs), Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs), evaluation, eligibility, support and other interventions.
Why are multidisciplinary teams important?
Multidisciplinary teams are important because members all offer different insights and perspectives. Ideally, each party adds valuable information, and through strategic discussion, the group can then make connections about the student's present levels, goals, progress, support and services. In essence, each team member brings a piece of the puzzle, and together, the group forms a picture – an individualized plan designed to support the student's success.
Who are typical members of a multidisciplinary team?
Multidisciplinary teams include but aren't limited to:
- Parent, guardian or caregiver
- School administrator
- Special education coordinator
- Special education teacher
- General education teacher
- Occupational therapist
- Physical therapist
- Speech-language pathologist
- Assistive technology specialist
- School counselor
- School nurse
- School psychologist
- Student's physician
- Professional advocate
- Student (possibly, depending on age and other factors)
What role do occupational therapists generally play on multidisciplinary teams?
The multidisciplinary team's work isn't limited to the meetings; however, a great deal of team collaboration does occur there. During IEP meetings, for example, occupational therapists' roles generally include:
- Giving an update on the student's present levels of performance
- Reporting on the student's progress
- Reviewing the annual and quarterly goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely or SMART goals)
- Participating in the discussion and providing recommendations and input on related services, accommodations, modifications and appropriate classroom placement
Outside of meetings, occupational therapists may be collaborating with other members of the multidisciplinary team on:
- Data collection
How can occupational therapists serve as valuable members of multidisciplinary teams?
To make the most of multidisciplinary teams and meetings, school-based OTs can:
- Advocate for the student
- Include the student's assets and strengths when giving present levels and progress updates
- Be prepared for the meeting, with all materials, data and documentation complete and in order
- Remember all members of the team are working together toward the same goal
- Make space for each member of the team, respecting their insight and opinions
- Be transparent, unbiased, rational, positive and compassionate
- Eliminate distractions, silence cellphones and device alerts, and focus on the meeting
- Avoid jargon and speak in a language everyone present can understand
Are you ready to be a multidisciplinary team player? It's an incredible way to provide comprehensive support for students, learn about various aspects of special education, and witness how adults can come together to improve students’ lives.
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