If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, you no doubt constantly strive to find the very best way to support them through their school years. We turn to a key leader in the special education space, Jayne Nadarajoo; the founding Director of MSIS (Melbourne Specialist International School) and Eugenia Pereira; an Occupational Therapist (OT) who works with MSIS, to see how occupational therapy links in with other support.
Tell us how Occupational Therapy can support a child with special needs?
Eugenia: Occupational therapists can help a child with special needs to participate in activities they want and ‘need’ to do, by making therapeutic use of everyday activities. Occupational Therapy helps to enhance our student’s abilities, promoting motor, cognitive and emotional development. At MSIS, our therapists use a variety of strategies to address motor development, self-regulation, sensory needs, social participation, perceptual skills and more. Students with developmental delays can benefit from OT to achieve independence in many areas of their lives.
How is Occupational Therapy used in a school setting, including at MSIS?
Jayne: The main goal of Occupational Therapy is to promote participation in ADLs (activities of daily living), school, and leisure or play activities. In general, occupational therapists evaluate the student, environment and tasks or activities while addressing the respective challenges and concerns.
Our school occupational therapist not only supports our students but collaborates with our teachers to promote learning activities that are designed to meet each student’s individual needs. This helps our team members acquire new skills too, so together we can create more positive “enabling environments”.
What can parents do at home to support their child with special needs?
Eugenia: Our occupational therapists strive to build positive relationships with parents, maintaining open lines of communication throughout the school year. We encourage parents to incorporate treatment ideas and strategies into their daily routines, as children need continuity and daily practice.
We may ask parents to repeat certain activities or use a piece of equipment at home to facilitate the generalisation of new skills learned at our school.
Give us an example of Occupational Therapy in action.
Eugenia: Goal: For John to be able to participate in his classroom during seated writing activities for 10 minutes, with verbal prompts from the teacher and a visual schedule.
- To attend to John’s needs by providing appropriate tables/chairs, “just right” pen/pencil sizes, adequate lined paper, headphones to filter distracting noises, and a slant board to improve eye-hand coordination.
- To develop John’s sensory processing and motor skills by creating obstacle courses he can use throughout his school day, age-appropriate play opportunities and gradual exposure to sensory triggers. This supports problem-solving and coping mechanisms.
- Together with John’s teacher and parents, develop and implement an individual sensory diet (e.g. jumps, sensory toys, “quiet breaks”, chewy foods and so on) and a sensory ladder for self-regulation.
- To collaborate and find the best type of visual schedule.
What are some examples of how OT has significantly helped a child with special needs?
Eugenia: We have students who would previously self-harm; hitting was a way to communicate their needs or anxieties, or a means of task avoidance. With close monitoring and intervention, we’ve been able to help them develop new skills to regulate their bodies and communicate their needs and wants.
Plus, incorporating movement and sensory-based activities that are developed to present a “just right” challenge has helped them tremendously in increasing their participation in school activities.
Who would benefit from the learning environment MSIS has created?
Jayne: MSIS is a non-selective school that doesn’t let a child with special needs be excluded from an equal opportunity to be part of the community. I really believe that every student at our school is acknowledged, loved and, more importantly, celebrated for the joy they bring us daily!
Do you have any other exciting news to share in the special education space?
Jayne: Do keep a lookout for information on the launch of our international college, which will provide wonderful trade- and skills-based programmes for older students.
Melbourne Specialist International School is located at 75C Loewen Road, Dempsey.
6634 8891 | msis.edu.sg