I recently watched a local news story that upset me. You can watch it yourself at the WUSA Channel 9 site. It is about a 6 year old boy who came home wearing a weighted belt, which is an OT support used to help kids regulate themselves. The mother was quite upset and is calling it a case of restraint.

It may or may not be restraint. I can see both sides of the argument. In my opinion, the school did the wrong thing by putting a support in place without adequate supervision, as those belts are only supposed to be worn for 15-20 minutes at a time. The school also did a poor job educating the mother on why her son needs this intervention and how it helps him. I do feel that the mother’s reaction is over the top, but I can certainly see her point. If my son came home wearing a strange device I would be at the Superintendents office within the hour.

That brings us to the point of this blog. Are these supports medical or educational? The school typically argues that OT supports are educational, as many of them are administered by school staff with an education background and no formal OT training. However, since most occupational therapy supports address challenges with the central nervous system, motor planning and sensory processing, my argument is that they are medical interventions.

If you’re thinking “it can’t be medical because a doctor didn’t prescribe it” then think again. Many therapeutic treatments are recommended by specialists who are not medical professionals. Massage therapy is the first one that comes to mind. While massage therapists are required to attend school and be trained, their trade does not typically require a prescription to reap the benefits. The same is true of chiropractic care and acupuncture.

Occupational therapists, however, are medical professionals. In Virginia they are licensed by the Board of Medicine and have to pass a rigorous exam. They are also required to have a masters degree. It takes commitment and effort to gain the education and license necessary to practice this discipline. As with any other medical practice, there are additional sub-specialties available,

If you are wondering “why is the school providing medical care?” Diabetic children receive insulin in school. They receive it from a nurse, but the nurse is a school employee. The reason kids don’t need a nurse to administer OT is that many of the activities can be worked into the school day. Just as a nurse can be trained to administer a medical program, teachers can be trained to administer occupational therapy. They can be given a program to contribute to the child’s “sensory buffet,” the new term for the “sensory diet.” However, the consultative services of the OT are critical.

The reason you want an OT involved is the same reason you go back to the doctor for a follow up visit: to make sure things are working as planned. Sometimes the OT misunderstands the child’s issues and needs to adjust the program. Occasionally more exercises will need to be added, or the program tweaked to better fit the child’s sensorium. The OT also makes sure that things like leaving a weighted object on a child for an extended period of time are not happening.

So is it medical or educational? OT is a medical support that can be partially administered by educational personnel. Like everything else, having a professional trained in the discipline is critical for your team success which will ultimately lead to your child’s success. Make sure the school has an OT on your team if it is part of your child’s program. That’s the best way to make sure the little things aren’t getting missed.