Working Effectively with Teens as a School-Based Occupational Therapist

by Howard Gerber on March 22, 2018

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teens occupational therapyOccupational therapy is beneficial at any age, especially during the teenage years. Teens are transitioning into adulthood and hopefully moving towards more independence. Occupational therapy can help adolescents learn ways to deal with academic and social challenges they may face due to their disability.

Why Occupational Therapy for Teens is Important

The teen years can be difficult for all kids as they move towards adulthood. Peer pressure, family issues, and academic problems can occur. For teenagers with a disability, additional issues are also common including self-doubt, fitting in, and fears about their future.

Students with disabilities may face unique challenges when they transition out of high school and into adulthood. High rates of underemployment or unemployment are common. Students with disabilities may become frustrated with school and dropout or not seek any further education if they do graduate.

School-based occupational therapists can help teens navigate the transition. Depending on the child’s diagnosis and goals, an OT may help teens improve organization skills needed to succeed as an adult. School-based occupational therapists also work with adolescents on social skills, such as anger management and handling difficult conversations.

Individuals goals vary, but a common theme is working on transitional skills, which helps students to plan for their future and live independently. It’s also critical to promote self-advocacy skills and coordinate adult care resources as needed as teens age out of school-based occupational therapy.

Tips for Working with Teens

Although every child is different, there are a few things to keep in mind when working with teenagers.

Implement a Client-Centered Approach: A client-centered approach involves the client taking an active role in their therapy. There may be some instances when a teen cannot be involved in setting goals. But teens should participate in goal setting when possible. Also, when implementing therapy, give students a choice of activities as much as possible.

Build Rapport: Building rapport is important for success when working with teenagers. Although you should not try to be your students best friend, showing a general interest in their lives can improve your relationship. For instance, spend a few minutes before therapy engaging in informal conversation about what’s new or happening in their lives.

Use a Variety of Activities: Teens often get bored easily, which means using a variety of therapy activities is helpful. Considering changing the order you do things or take a therapy session outside your office if possible. The playground, library, and gym are alternative areas that add variety to therapy sessions. Teens still enjoy games, so look for age-appropriate apps and activities to keep them engaged throughout therapy.

Consider Accommodations Carefully: During the teen years, kids might be self-conscious if they feel they are different. They often want to fit in and be just like every other student. While certain accommodations may be necessary, they can also be tricky. Teens don’t necessarily want to be seen as different or stand out. Consider the benefits versus the cons of implementing accommodations.

Working with teenagers as a school-based occupational therapist can be rewarding. You have an opportunity to help kids become independent and transition into adulthood better equipped to handle the changes. Do you have any tips for working with teens?


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