Definition of a school-based occupational therapist

Updated July 19, 2017

A school-based occupational therapist is a trained health care professional who examines children and identifies specific problems that may hinder a child’s academic performance. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the job outlook for occupational therapists is projected to increase much faster than average for all professions, rising 26 per cent during the 2008 to 2018 decade.


Occupational therapy in school settings encourages academic success and helps students with disabilities and individuals experiencing specific problems reach their highest potential. It focuses on helping students pay attention and concentrate, hold objects such as books and pencils and demonstrate appropriate behaviour. Considered a special education service, occupational therapy within schools is often a part of a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and must support the necessary educational objectives. Federal law mandates occupational therapy in the school setting.

Duties of a School-Based Occupational Therapist

School-based occupational therapists assist students with performing the necessary activities to participate in school activities and foster meaningful learning. A school-based occupational therapist looks at a variety of areas affected by a child’s disability such as self-care, motor function, sensory processing and awareness, oral motor function, function of the hands, visual and perceptual abilities and prevocational activities. She uses specific activities to help individuals reach goals and objectives and help children reach their maximum potential. She uses many intervention methods including teacher consultation, special training for staff members, direct therapy with students, environment modification and modifying adaptive equipment.

Treatment Team

A school-based occupational therapist collaborates with many individuals to address the needs of students. He works with the student himself to improve academic performance in many learning settings such as classrooms, playgrounds and bathrooms. He communicates with the parents to help extend treatment in the home environment. He works with educators and other staff to help create activities and learning environments to stimulate all students. A school-based occupational therapist also works with school administrators to ensure appropriate training is provided for students, parents, teachers and staff members and to provide suggestions on the appropriate building modifications and support equipment.

Education and Qualifications

All occupational therapists generally need at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Coursework typically includes biology, chemistry, psychology, occupational therapy theory and occupational therapy methods. All accredited occupational therapy programs require students to complete supervised field experiences. Many aspiring occupational therapists interested in working in school environments complete volunteer experiences in a school setting while pursuing their education. All states require occupational therapists to have a license. Licensing requirements include graduation from an accredited occupational therapy program and receiving a satisfactory score on the national certification examination. Some states require school-based occupational therapists to complete education courses and/or education certificates.

Salary states that as of July 2010, school-based occupational therapists with less than one year of experience earn average annual salaries between £26,323 and £39,000. School-based occupational therapists with one to four years experience earn average annual salaries between £27,540 and £33,855.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Melissa Weaver started writing professionally in 2008. She has published articles for private clients and on various websites, specializing in education, careers and health. Weaver received a bachelor's degree in early childhood education/special education from the University of Minnesota in 2008 and has an educational background in the health sciences.