Advice for Parents From Frederick County Schools’ OT/PT Expert

Parents of children with developmental challenges who come to Amber Hill often have many questions about the services provided for their children by local schools.  At Amber Hill, we have a close working relationship with school OT/PT providers, so we invited Steve Buckley, M.S., OTR/L, the supervisor of Occupational Therapy/Physical Therapy in Frederick County’s Public School (FCPS) System, to come to our January Parent Night to “de-mystify” the programs.

Student Service Teams

FCPS’s five physical therapists and 10 occupational therapists participate in Student Service Teams (SST), a school-based group of teachers and administrators who are assigned to intervene when a child is having difficulty. The school’s special education teacher is the “driver” and the occupational or physical therapists on the team are “along for the ride”, he said, by being part of the team that plans the students’ program or by providing therapy.

  • Worksheets with questions/answers are used to assess whether a child qualifies as having a disability.
  • Once a child is assigned a disability code, they become part of the special education program, and may receive OT/PT as part of their learning process.

Success in the Classroom

The school system’s approach is to “adapt the environment to make the child successful in the educational setting,” he said.  An example could be a physical education class, where a child having difficulty doing pushups might be provided with alternative knee- or elbow- pushups. “”We always prefer to work with the students directly in the classroom, because that’s where they’re having the problems,” he said. “It keeps the child in the education setting so they’re not missing class time.”

Some schools have a very experienced special education team with a broad knowledge of OT/PT that will be planned into the students’ educational needs. Other schools may need to call in someone from the OT/PT team to guide the students, he said.

Parental Involvement

Steve advised parents to take an active role in the SST meetings and IEP (Individual Education Plans) for their children, and some parents were surprised to hear that they can request mid-year “update” meetings if they see a need for a re-evaluation for their child’s progress.

The progress of students in school is improved when the school teams have a good working relationship and dialogue with a child’s private OTs and PTs, such as Amber Hill’s team, because it gives them knowledge of what the student is learning outside the school setting. The good relationship in the schools with Amber Hill is due largely to the outreach of Allison Cooley, who supervises the Amber Hill team. “Allison goes to the schools to observe and be aware of what we are doing,”  so that the child grows even more with the integration of Amber Hill’s therapy and what the child is learning in school, he said.