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TxSpot | School-Based Therapy > Blog

The Scope of Things

February 08
Developing and Maintaining Competence as a School-Based TherapistDeveloping and Maintaining Competence as a School-Based Therapist

​Amy Collins, OTR, MOT                                                                                                                                                            Manager, School-Based Therapy Services, HCDEcompetence 4.jpg

Competence as a school-based occupational therapist or physical therapist is a challenge that requires one to be familiar with the laws and regulations that govern school practice, knowledge of current evidence, and understanding of best practices, all of which evolve over time (Laverdure, 2014).  But how can we go about developing and maintaining that competency? Faucher (2011), states that expert practice involves self-assessment, the attainment of new knowledge, and the application of that knowledge.
Self-assessment requires us to step back from the daily hustle and objectively reflect on areas where we have developed competency, and areas where we still need to grow. Once self-assessment has occurred, practitioners can develop a plan to address those areas. Professional development plans (PDP) spell out how new knowledge will be gained, and how it will be applied in practice. PDPs typically include measurable goals, action steps, and specify how the new knowledge will be applied in practice. They usually include timelines for completion and some means of accountability. AOTA is continually developing tools to help occupational therapy practitioners self-reflect and self-assess, including the AOTA Board Specialty Certification in School Systems and the Professional Development Tool (AOTA, 2003). The Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy (APPT), a section of the American Physical Therapy Association, publishes the quarterly journal, Pediatric Physical Therapy. The journal includes articles of interest to school-based physical therapists. The APPT’s School-Based Physical Therapy Special Interest Group offers on-line resources as well as an annual conference available to members and non-members alike.
Common ways practitioners acquire new knowledge are through professional development such as workshops, professional literature, and learning from other competent practitioners. A work place that promotes continuous learning is critical to a practitioner’s efforts. Work environments that have systems and processes in place make it possible for practitioners to acquire and apply new knowledge. One way that work environments can support continuous learning is by setting aside time for practitioners to meet with other practitioners, both within their discipline and between disciplines in order to model, mentor, share, and discuss new information. Other ways are by supporting attendance at professional development offerings and monitoring continuing competence as part of the performance evaluation process.
While TxSpot is an excellent resource for credible information related to school-based practice, membership-only resources are not available through TxSpot. There is no substitute for membership in your professional organization, which offers a wealth of tools and information conducive for continuing education.
 Laverdure, P. (2014). Considerations for the developmental of expert-practice in school-based occupational therapy. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 7, 225-234. 
Faucher, C. (2011). Development of professional expertise in optometry. Journal of the American Optometric Association, 82, 218-223.  
October 27
It’s About Time! | School-based TherapyIt’s About Time! | School-based Therapy

Jean Polichino, OTR, MS, FAOTA   

Senior Director, School Based Therapy Services, HCDE 

 It's About Time!


What is a Therapist’s Obligation for Making Up Missed Therapy Sessions?   Alarm clocks 2.jpg


As with many things in special education, the answer to the question, “Do we have to make up missed therapy sessions?” is, “It depends.”  

The significant factor in determining how to proceed can be found in the reason for the missed session.  If a session is missed because the therapist was ill, a special assembly was held, or because the student’s sessions are scheduled on Mondays when holidays result in school closure, it is the responsibility of the school district to ensure those sessions are made up. The therapist should allow for flexibility within his or her own schedule for make-up visits as the need for them is an inevitable reality in school practice. 
If, on the other hand, the occasional missed visit is due to the student’s absence, there is no legal obligation to make up the visit. Having said that, most school districts will want therapists to make a good faith effort to make up the missed session as it is in the student’s best interest to do so.
On those rare occasions when a student is chronically absent, school attorneys advise convening an ARD/IEP meeting to reconsider the IEP. All services are impacted by chronic absences, so it is likely that goals/objectives would need to be revised and the time, frequency and duration of needed services will need to be adjusted. 
In all cases, therapists should document the missed session and the reason it occurred. In cases of chronic absences, therapists should communicate what is occurring to the special education administration and plan together with campus personnel so that appropriate action is taken


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August 16
New School Year, New FacesNew School Year, New Faces




Denice Tucker, OTR
Manager, School-based Therapy Services, HCDE
 Whether you are new to schools or returning to the same district, here are suggestions to help you establish yourself as part of the team. Establishing positive relationships will be rewarded throughout the school year. 
·         Always wear your nametag.
·         Introduce yourself to the following people:
A.     the Principal
B.     the Asst. Principal
C.     the Diagnostician
D.     the ARD chairperson/ Special Ed Coordinator
E.      the School Secretary
F.      the person in charge of the copy machine
G.     the Speech therapist
H.     the Adapted P.E. teacher (if there is one)
I.       the school Nurse
J.       the school Counselor
K.      the teachers who provide instruction to students you will be seeing
L.      the facilities personnel
M.    the cafeteria workers.
Note:  Make it your business to remember names.  Write them down and review before entering the school the next time. Also it is wise to get email addresses of those you interact with frequently.
·       Sign in and out at every school so anyone who needs you will know you are there (for their benefit and yours).
·        Learn the daily routines of your assigned students, and work together with the teacher(s) to determine when IEP goals should be addressed. If there are several issues represented in the goals, collaborate with the student and teachers on how to prioritize. Ask when problems occur and in what contexts, and then plan to be there at that time and in that place. As you work through priorities and issues with the student and the campus team, be ready to change the day and time you come. Although consistency of day and time is nice, meeting student needs is more important – flexibility is crucial. 
·      The IEP is your guide, and all issues in the IEP requiring support from your service must be addressed.
·       Keep the teachers, campus and students informed about when you will make your next visit.  This can be handled in a variety of methods depending on the preference of the teacher (e.g. email, text, phone call).
·       Make it your business to check the ARD calendar every time you are on the campus (check with the Diagnostician, the tracking teacher, the clerical person – whoever maintains the calendar for scheduled ARDs). This will help ensure you are not caught unprepared for an ARD.
·      Make frequent contact with school personnel to nurture and maintain positive working relationships.  Your interest will be returned!
August 16
Tips for GETTING ORGANIZED at the start of the school year | School-Based TherapyTips for GETTING ORGANIZED at the start of the school year | School-Based Therapy
Are you ready.jpg
Denice Tucker, OTR
Manager, School-Based Therapy Services, HCDE
·         Print a map of the district from the district website to locate
·         Collect your student “soft” folders and find out where they
           are securely stored.
·         Review ARD/IEP information (are current copies of goals
          and objectives, accommodations/modifications, and services page in your
          soft folder?). 
·         Determine ARDed service (time, frequency, duration) and check to make sure
           service time in your records matches that on the service page in the IEP.
·         If you are a PT, check to make sure the medical referrals for your students are up-
·         Familiarize yourself with the student’s current IEP.
·         Meet principals, office staff, diagnosticians, and ARD chairperson at your schools
           and provide them with your contact information.
·         Meet/e-mail teachers and find out their schedules; find out when the student is doing
           the activity the activity that the IEP is addressing; give them your contact information.
·         Organize a personal system to manage documentation, such as a notebook with
           student attendance, student attendance, progress notes, and IEP objectives.
·         Locate resources and test materials in your district.
·         Observe your assigned students in the classroom.
·         Think through intervention strategies and decide how to serve students in context by
           embeding strategies; write an intervention plan. If needed, write a plan for your OTA
           or PTA.
·         Pick up referrals that pertain to your schools and know the process to proceed.
·         Identify district procedures for securing parent consent.
·         Ask about the paper flow in your district.
·         Determine how and where to obtain needed equipment. 
August 11
What is Happening with Sunset Review for OT and PT Licensing?What is Happening with Sunset Review for OT and PT Licensing?

Jean Polichino, OTR, MS, FAOTA
Senior Director, School-based Therapy Services, Harris County Dept. of Education

new1.pngIt has been a very busy year for those responsible for regulating the practice of occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) in our state. The agency that supports the licensing of practitioners from both disciplines, the Executive Council for Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy Examiners (ECPTOTE, is undergoing the process of Sunset Review by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. Every state agency must undergo this process periodically, justifying its existence to commission members who are tasked with identifying and eliminating waste, duplication and inefficiency. The ECPTOTE review was in preparation for the 2017 legislative session, as the Commission must make recommendations to the legislature and governor whether there remains a compelling reason for Texas taxpayers to continue to benefit from licensing OTs and PTs, and if so, whether there are cost-saving measures the state could take in administering the licensing process.

The news regarding ECPTOTE is very good! The Sunset Staff Report issued in April found that licensing of OT and PT practitioners remains an important consumer protection function for the state of Texas. In their report, they identified the following issues that are the focus of their recommendations:
§  The requirement for facility registration, while providing a revenue source for the state, is unnecessary.
§  The PT and OT statutes unnecessarily impede therapists from working across state lines.
§  The PT board’s “process for turning its continuing competence approval program over to the Texas Physical therapy Association is an inappropriate delegation of its governmental duties.”
§  The OT and PT boards should be conducting fingerprint-based criminal background checks of licensure applicants and licensees.
§  The state should continue licensing by the OT and PT boards under the administration of the ECPTOTE until 2029.
Although there were initial thoughts the OT and PT boards might be transferred to a much larger umbrella agency supporting many other boards, they determined that ECPTOTE is efficient and effective in protecting Texas consumers and administering the licensing process for licensees. Transferring the boards would be a costly disruption.
The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission held a public hearing on June 23, 2016 to discuss the report’s recommendations and hear testimony from the public. Subsequently, the commission will make recommendations to the legislature when they convene in January of 2017. For more information about how the Sunset process works and to read the full report, go to   

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July 21
So You Have Decided to Become a School-Based Therapist!So You Have Decided to Become a School-Based Therapist!

Melinda McGouldrick, OTR, MOT
Manager, School-Based Therapy Services, Harris County Dept. of EducationWondering woman 2.jpg

For whatever reason, you have decided it’s the right time to change from being a therapist in the hospital, clinic, or skilled nursing facility. You are experienced in your current world, you know the language, you speak in familiar acronyms, and the processes and equipment are familiar and routine. Yes, you educate.  You give home programs, you are involved in discharge planning, and you educate caregivers.

You are ready for change . . . you are making the leap . . . you like working with kids . . .it sure would be nice to be on your own children’s school schedules . . . .It takes a while, but you land a new job in the schools. Wow! 
You know there will be new learning and you are ready. Just know that the change is bigger and there are more differences than you had anticipated.  This is not a bad thing…just under appreciated until you live it. 
You have become comfortable knowing that ROM is range of motion, H&P is history and physical, etc. etc. and you can even read it when a physician scribbles it on his notes. Be prepared, because you will find that the acronyms in the education world are completely different. In the resource section of this website there is a 7 page list of Frequently Used Acronyms and Terms for School-based Practice in Texas.  The only familiar term that you will notice is TBI for traumatic brain injury.  It is a different and rich language. (Frequently used Acronyms and Terms for School-based Practice in TX; TxSpot Resources Page)
Other resources on this website describe the difference between school-based practice and the medical model/clinical focus.  (Comparison of School-Based to Clinic-Based Therapy; FAQ: Clarify school-based v. medical model; School Based vs. Clinical Based Therapy - Region 10 Website) The services therapists provide in the school setting are vital components of a therapy world that is serving the 3-21 year olds in our state…we are helping to prepare for their future and in doing so our own futures.  This is not to say you will not continue to consider self-care, mobility, positioning, and the underlying fine and gross motor skills.  Your identity as a therapist who values the facilitation of independence and helping people will continue to be nurtured.  But, as a therapist, it is a mind shift to support.  You will look at the role of others on the team and regard the environment through a different set of lenses.  Among other things you will be supporting literacy and assistive technology, and “UDL” (Universal Design for Learning).  Your goals will no longer be therapy-specific goals, but will be in support of the student’s educational goals within a team plan.  You are now a member of a group whose mission is to help a student be able to receive a free and appropriate education and to participate in his or her educational environment. 
At the most basic level of operations, you have always organized yourself and your personal schedule in regard to work hours.  Now you will think in terms of days.  If you worked full time you had vacation and sick time or PTO or EIB.  In the schools when you are enjoying that winter or spring break or that long summer break with your children, those days are not counted in your “contract” days.  Don’t get me wrong; it is fabulous to not be dealing with hospital holiday scheduling stress.  You will still get personal leave days, but they are counted differently and depend on the school or district in which you work.
Just remember when you are feeling overwhelmed with all the effort and learning and energy that you put into this change…it is all worth it!
I’ve made the switch and you can, too. You’re going to love it! 
May 16
School-based Therapy | Wrap it Up!School-based Therapy | Wrap it Up!

Gift-Wrapping-Guide-1447196647.jpgDenice Tucker, OTR
Manager, School-Based Therapy Services, Harris County Dept. of Education

Have you ever started a job in a school district and on the first day of work, you realize there are no student folders? No current medical referrals? No initial evaluation much less a current evaluation? No identifiable Plan of Care or IEP goals marked for your service?  No list of students with time/frequency and campus?  And, of course, no way to find the whereabouts of the previous therapist to get answers to these questions? Where do you start as a therapist new to the district, especially if you are the only OT or PT without benefit of a therapy team with memory of previous services? 

To make sure no one has to walk into the situation described above, the time to start planning for the end of the year in a school based job is NOW.  Even if you feel certain now that you will be returning in the fall, get your documentation in order for the upcoming school year. Life has a way of changing the best laid plans, and it may very well be someone else who must walk into your job in the fall.  
Use this quick checklist to help you organize and get prepared NOW for the upcoming year.
·     Do you have a student folder (sometimes called a “soft folder”) for each student receiving services?  Or, if your district keeps electronic files, is there an up-to-date “folder” for each student?
·    Does each folder include a copy of the student’s current evaluation, IEP goals/objectives and the related services page with time and frequency specified?
·    Have you included copies of your progress notes and attendance sheets in each student’s folder?
·    Is a copy of the current medical referral in each folder? If new medical referrals are needed, has the appropriate physician been sent the district’s form for completion over the summer?
·    If yours is the service responsible for updating the IEP’s in the state folder, have you updated them? (Note: This would be the case if your service has primary responsibility for implementation of the IEPs. If you are a collaborator and instruction is primary, the teacher would update the IEPs).
·    Have you made a list of first things to do in August to get started (check on students changing campuses, get student schedules, meet new teachers, etc.)?
·    Have you let district administration know where your updated student folders are stored over the summer?
Change happens! Making sure a working folder with current documentation is available for each student is also the right thing to do for the students you serve. Do your best to create a stress-less situation for the start of the new year -  it is an act of kindness to a new therapist who may find him or herself in a new school district position. Who knows -- it could be you!

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March 04
Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy | An Adapted PE eval? Me? Help!Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy | An Adapted PE eval? Me? Help!
R to L Adapted PE.jpg
Janine Calmes, PT, MS
TxSpot Support
It may not be the same in some other states, but in Texas, school-based physical therapists and occupational therapists can be asked to do an adapted physical education evaluation.
So, you have been asked to assess a student for adapted physical education (APE) – where do you start?

The goal of an APE evaluation will sound familiar since it sounds much like the goal for an IEP. It is to ensure that “each student receives the most appropriate physical education program in the least restrictive environment.”

 There are five purposes for APE evaluations:
·         To establish present level of performance.
·         To develop the program – to determine which activities would promote development of delayed areas and any modifications needed to facilitate participation.
·         To determine the most appropriate PE placement in the least restrictive environment.
·         To make an educated estimate of what the student may be capable of achieving.
·         To measure achievement. 
Evaluation for APE can include information gathered from screening or testing instruments, observation, survey reports, review of records, and consulting with parents. The assessment(s) that you choose for APE is going to depend on several things: the age and grade level of the student as well as the nature and severity of his or her disability.
Region 10 Educational Service Center (Region 10) has made recommendations for primary and secondary assessment tools for APE. Primary tools are recommended first because they closely relate to the general education PE curriculum and are age and developmentally appropriate. Secondary tests are recommended when primary assessment tools are not developmentally appropriate. Non-standardized instruments can be used as supplementary information gathering tools. Region 10 APE specialists have designed alternate assessment instruments for students with moderate to severe motor deficits, including evaluation tools for ambulatory students with low motor performance, students with visual impairments, and students with orthopedic impairments. Their package of APE evaluation tools also includes Ecological Surveys, the Physical Education Participation Inventory (P.E.P.I.), and the Lifetime Leisure Survey. 
The primary tools recommended by Region 10 for children aged 0 – 5 years 11 months are
·         Louisiana Motor Assessment for Pre-Schoolers (LaMAP),
·         Hawaiian Early Learning Profile (HELP), and 
·         Brigance (Brigance).  
The primary tools recommended for children ages 6 – 22 are
·         Competency Testing for Adapted Physical Education (CTAPE - CTAPE),  
·         Adapted Physical Education Assessment Scale (APEAS - APEAS - II),
·         PE Participation Inventory (PEPI - PEPI),
·         Fitnessgram (the official assessment of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, designed for typically-developing students - Fitnessgram;  Fitnessgram Test Manual), and
·         Brockport Physical Fitness Test (Presidential Youth Fitness Program adopted test for students with disabilities, ages 10 – 17 - Presidential Youth Fitness Free Materials).
Check the links below for other recommendations for APE evaluation instruments:
January 08
Adapted Physical Education and (Possibly) Me Adapted Physical Education and (Possibly) Me

Janine Calmes, PT, MS                             
TxSpot Support         sport-_jpg.jpg

Have you been asked to assess a student for adapted physical education and thought, “Is this really my role?” 

Although it is not unheard of for therapists to be asked to provide adapted physical education in Texas, physical therapists and occupational therapists in Texas may begin receiving more referrals to evaluate students for adapted physical education. This is a great way to advocate for the physical, recreational and leisure needs of students with disabilities as well as assist with ensuring a quality education.

 Texas House Bill 440, which went into effect May 23, 2015, makes it clear that the physical education (PE) needs of ALL students must be met, including students with disabilities who are served by special education. Students must be included who have special needs that preclude them “from participating in regular PE instruction, but might be able to participate in physical education that is suitably adapted.”  Needs for adapted PE (APE) instruction should be based on a comprehensive evaluation and included in the student’s individualized education program.

Occupational therapists and physical therapists are among the personnel identified in the Texas Education Code as able to evaluate for and provide APE. OTAs and PTAs working under appropriate supervision are also listed as appropriate for providing APE instruction. The Code specifies that PE curriculum “must be sequential, developmentally appropriate, and designed, implemented, and evaluated to enable students to develop the motor, self-management, and other skills, knowledge, attitudes, and confidence necessary to participate in physical activity throughout life.”

The Texas Education Code states that PE curriculum must: 

      • emphasize the knowledge and skills capable of being used during a lifetime of regular   physical activity; 
      • be consistent with national physical education standards;
      • include moderate or vigorous activity at least 50% of class time;
      • offer students an opportunity to choose among many types of physical activity in which to   participate; 
      • offer students both cooperative and competitive games; 
      • take into account the effect that gender and cultural differences;
      • teach self-management and movement skills; 
      • teach cooperation, fair play, and responsible participation in physical activity; 
      • promote student participation in physical activity outside of school; and 
      • allow physical education classes to be an enjoyable experience for students.
TxSpot will bring you more information on this issue, including evaluating for APE, as it becomes available.

For more information about HB 440 and adapted PE, check the following links:
November 02
Lawyer or advocate at the ARD?Lawyer or advocate at the ARD?

Denice Tucker, OTR
Manager, School-Based Therapy Services, Harris County Dept. of Education

Have you ever been in an ARD meeting and the parent brings an advocate or lawyer?  How do you feel?  Nervous, anxious, scared?  Very real emotions, but here are some points to consider.

·        Parents can invite anyone they choose to the ARD meeting – you have no control over that. You can only control how you respond. Try to remember the parents are doing what they believe is in the best interest of their child.
·        Make a practice of addressing ALL members of the ARD committee when speaking. Lawyers and advocates may be intimidating, but they are not voting members of the ARD committee. Advocates and lawyers are generally paid by parents to seek solutions the parents desire, and they may use adversarial methods that promote discord to do so.
·        Prior to the ARD meeting, make sure you have thorough knowledge of the student, collect progress data to share with the team, and take some time to consider questions or concerns that may come up during the discussion.
·        Prior to the ARD meeting, it is a good idea to practice articulating your role as a related service provider in the educational setting and explaining your recommendations for service. Role play can help you prepare for responses to concerns that may arise.
·        When others disagree, don’t be afraid to reaffirm your position if you feel the data supports your point of view. However, be open to changing your mind if you hear relevant new information..
·        Ask questions of the parents, advocate, or attorney using language such as “Help me understand your concern,” or “What do you envision I would be doing?” Listen carefully, and then craft your response, respectfully explaining how you (and/or others) are or will address the concerns.
·        Limit your explanations and comments to the questions asked -- be brief and to the point.
·        Speak only when spoken to-don’t invite controversy by saying something that doesn’t need to be said.
Take a deep breath and relax when questions are directed to you, it’s not about you.


1 - 10Next

 List of Articles


​How do we go about developing and maintaining competency?


​How to determine if missed visits must be made up.


​Ideas to help establish yourself as part of the team.


​Tips to get organized at the start of the school year.


​Update on the Sunset Review process for the Texas OT and PT Licensing Board.


What to expect; Some differences between school-based therapy and clinic-based therapy.


Wrapping up your school year: Making sure your documentation is complete for the next year or the next therapist.


​Evaluation tools for Adapted Physical Education


PTs and OTs and ​Adapted Physical Education in Texas


​Points to consider when a parent brings an advocate or lawyer to an ARD meeting.


Explains the focus on literacy in Texas education.


Handwriting referrals to school OTs related to STAAR and STAAR-A tests.


​When is it time to dismiss a student from therapy services?


​The academic benefits of physical exercise.


​Transitioning from caseload to workload.


​Screening for sleep deprivation.


​Questioning the "why" behind lack of motivation at school.


​When to use standardized assessment tools.

About this page

“The Scope of Things” is created by the TxSpot team, made up of managers in the Therapy Services Division of the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) in Houston, Texas. We are occupational therapists and physical therapists with a breadth and depth of knowledge of school-based practice in Texas. We share our insights and experiences with the hope that they will contribute to your ongoing professional growth.