The American Occupational Therapy Association offers guidance for helping students engage in occupations while promoting health and safety in school and at home
Returning to school is a complex event, even in a typical school year. With the COVID-19 pandemic and other social uncertainty, new challenges exist to maintain safety, comfort, and learning for students of all ages. To those navigating these uncertain times, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has produced a Back to School Guide and Back to School Tip Sheets to provide practical suggestions for parents, guardians, caregivers, administrators, teachers, occupational therapy practitioners, para-professionals, and students to promote safe engagement in school-based occupations.
“Whether in person, or virtual, the complexity of returning to school requires a holistic approach,” says Varleisha Gibbs, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, AOTA’s Vice President of Practice Engagement and Capacity Building, who has 18 years of experience working in school-based practice as an OT, agency owner, consultant, and occupational therapy educator. “Recommendations must focus on the unique needs of all persons involved—children, parents, and the education team. To expand this focus, occupational therapy practitioners provide an approach addressing the environmental, physical, emotional, and behavioral demands.”
AOTA’s Back to School Guide provides support in these various areas of essential needs, including:
- Tips for Families: Helping Children and Adolescents Transition Back to School
- Transitions Back to School or to Virtual Learning
- Considerations for Creating a Classroom Partnership Pledge
- Classroom Set-up Tips for Teachers to Promote Safety and Comfort
- Selecting, Wearing, and Caring For Masks and Facial Coverings
- Considerations for Modifying and for Preparing Students for Changes in Transportation Services
- Identifying and Addressing Issues Related to Students’ Mental Health, Behavior and Well-being
- Guidance on Addressing Discrimination and Stigma
- Tips for Supporting Students with Autism
“Disruption to familiar routines can cause worry and anxiety in any child or young adult, and the reality is that we need to rethink what social engagement looks like for students this year,” says Susan Cahill, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, AOTA Director of Evidence-Based Practice, who has been an occupational therapist for 23 years, working as a school therapist, special education administrator, and occupational therapy educator. “Wearing masks, sitting away from friends, and meeting up online isn’t what students are used to expecting. The AOTA Back to School Guide includes practical tips and resources to help families and educators adapt routines and create new ones so that kids feel safe and are available for learning.”
AOTA’s Guides and Tip Sheets are available individually by topic or as one large document at www.aota.org/backtoschool.