Broader Scope in Schools

Note: In 2011, AOTA identified a broader scope in schools as an emerging niches in occupational therapy. It has since become more mainstream, so newer content appears elsewhere on our site. This page has been retained for historical information. Learn more about the 2011 Emerging Niche series here.

Scope in School

Why emerging?  Response to Intervention (RtI), a multitiered approach to general education that focuses on scientific-based research on how to best address learning disorders, is creating more opportunities for practitioners in schools.1 Whether practitioners are tackling problems of school safety, mental health, or services for social issues, this broader scope of practice is rivaling the more traditional services for children with disabilities. Also, as the value of occupational therapy becomes more apparent, some practitioners have been hired in independent and private schools.

Get Involved! When her daughter started kindergarten at an independent school, Heidi Tringali, MS, OTR/L, found out that the school was looking for an occupational therapist with a unique set of skills—working with children who were high functioning with a high IQ, but not performing to their potential. "Traditionally, occupational therapy has been known to work with children with remarkable developmental delays, medical diagnoses, learning disabilities, and physical disabilities," says Tringali. "In my practice I work with children with functional performance deficits that are interfering with their ability to perform to their fullest potential."

Because occupational therapy services in independent schools are not federally mandated, there are no legal guidelines on how to provide services in this environment, according to Tringali. Practitioners who want to work in independent schools should have a passion for high functioning children, she says. She says it is fun and intellectually stimulating to work with these children in some of the best schools in the county. "At least once a day a child will modify one of my OT activities and come up with a way to make it better," She says. Tringali notes that administrators at independent and private schools are hungry for the knowledge that occupational therapy practitioner can provide.

A broader scope in school-based practice also means that occupational therapy practitioners at public schools are beginning to look at the whole school population instead of just children with disabilities, according to Susan Bazyk, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA. She says that practitioners need to ask themselves, "what are the issues that need to be addressed at the level of the whole school population, and in what ways can we promote positive mental and physical health with children at risk?"

Picture by: National Assembly For Wales / Cynulliad Cymru 



  1. Clark, G. F., & Polichino, J. E. (2008). FAQ on Response to intervention. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from