School-based Occupational Therapy: Motivating the Hard to Reach Child

by Howard Gerber on April 13, 2017

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unmotivated studentLike all students, special needs children have various challenges, strengths, and abilities. Some children may be corporative and fully participate in therapy. The more motivated a student is, the more likely they are to try their best.

Other students may be uninterested and hard to motivate. You can’t force a student to work hard and be engaged in therapy, but you can implement several strategies to encourage them and keep them interested in therapy.

Recognize the issue.

Some students may appear unmotivated, but it’s not because they are lazy. Instead, they may lack confidence in their abilities. If a child doesn’t want to fail, they may not even try. Children who have a fear of failure may subconsciously not put forth any effort. When working with students with low self-esteem, be generous with praise to help build their confidence.

Allow students to earn “fun” time.

Unmotivated students often may just want to be left alone. Although you can’t do that, you can have students earn a certain amount of fun time after participating in therapy. For example, every third session, allow your students to earn time “playing” on the computer. Their therapy goals can be addressed using computer games, but your students may think they are just playing.

Consider individual personality.

It’s easy to start to lump students into categories. Some kids may be easy to work with while others are uninterested and hard to reach. But the reality is that people are often complex, and a combination of factors shape how they act. An unmotivated student may be easier to reach if you use certain methods. It just may take a little more time to find what works for certain kids. Always consider individual personalities when developing therapy plans.  What works for one student may not work for someone else.

Don’t forget to praise your student.

Everyone needs a pat on the back. Unmotivated students may need even more praise. Children who are unmotivated during therapy may act the same way when they are in their classroom or even at home. They may be used to hearing only about what they are doing incorrectly. Catch your students working hard and let them know they are making progress. Consider praising them in front of their parents and teachers. A little praise gives kids a confidence boost and may help them put forth the extra effort.

Have a lunchtime reward party.

As a school-based occupational therapist, you only have so many hours in the day. But you have to eat lunch sometime! If your school allows, consider having a few students earn a lunch party with you each month as a little reward.

Never give up.

Students who are unmotivated present a challenge. Depending on your caseload, you may have more work than you can handle. But never give up on a student, even if you think you’re not making progress with them. The extra effort and time you spend with your students may make the difference in their lives.

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