Utilizing Occupational Therapy in Postsecondary Transition Programs for Students with Neurologically Based Learning Disabilities


Written by Ashley K. Zizzo, Tiffany R. Rondinelli, Danielle Censi, Angela Buscemi and Sung Cho

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is the therapeutic use of everyday activities for the purpose of enhancing or enabling participation in all aspects of life including employment and independent living (AOTA, 2014). This service can be utilized in many different populations, such as transition programs for people with neurologically based learning disabilities. Postsecondary transition programs are programs to help people with neurologically based learning disabilities transition from high school to vocational or academic independence. Fewer than 100 documented supported education programs currently exist in the United States, and only 38 are approved by the United States Department of Education (United States Department of Education, 2015); these programs were developed by social workers and psychologists (Gutman, Kerner, Zombek, Dulek, & Ramsey, 2009). VanBergeijk, Klin, and Volkmar (2008) found that most students were not able to live independently and needed support transitioning “fully to an adult life that embraced work, personal relationships, and independent living.” As occupational therapists, we see a need for our knowledge in many settings, including educational curriculums. "The expertise of occupational therapist is critical in helping students with neurologically based learning disabilities succeed in student roles and ultimately become independent members of society.

Self-awareness and Client-centered practice

Occupational therapy is unique because among many other things, it promotes self-awareness and utilizes client-centered practice, both of which are necessary tools for transitioning and transition planning. Self-awareness comprises self-acceptance, self-regulation/emotion management, learning and practicing stress management techniques, and recognizing the importance of obtaining psychological support (Freedman, 2010). Occupational therapy helps with self-regulation by creating a balance between body and mind to allow for focus. For example, physical ways to ground oneself include deep breathing, whereas ways to re-energize include chewing on crunchy snacks, taking a walk, and jumping in place (Field, 2011).

Client-centered therapy is a cornerstone of occupational therapy that promotes self-awareness; it allows clients to take an active role in treatment while the therapist is nondirective and supportive (Client-centered therapy, 2016). Occupational therapy can bring client-centered practice to postsecondary transition programs by making our goals their goals. These goals can be achieved by showing them step by step how to reach each objective along the way, and possibly modifying the goal to be more attainable while still desirable to them.