Autism Acceptance Month

Autism acceptance

April is Autism Acceptance Month! For school based therapists, the end of the school year is in sight.  But the start of Spring brings forth a chance for new beginnings and new growth, even as we start to wind down the school year.  Every April, we celebrate Occupational Therapy Month.  It is a chance for us to celebrate our profession, inspire each other to remember the reasons why we chose a career in occupational therapy, and to show the world the gifts we have to offer in supporting individuals with the things that matter the most! 

Go for gold Autism acceptance month

Autism Acceptance Month

April is also Autism Acceptance Month. So, this is a perfect time to reflect on Occupational Therapy’s role in working with autistic individuals and how we can support neurodiversity acceptance in the places we work, with the clients and students we support, and in our world!

Not only in April, but all year long is a great time to support, advocate for, and help others understand, embrace, and connect with the unique qualities of autistic individuals.

Not sure where to start?  It can be overwhelming to take in all the information that comes at us each day through the news and social media, but occupational therapy practitioners can continue to do what we have always done…

  • listen to our clients and listen to the autistic voices that are in the media
  • use a strengths based approach
  • focus on environmental modifications
  • identify meaningful goals and work towards improving participation
  • use evidenced based practice
  • and advocate for our autistic clients

We can also take a look at what we have done in the past and what we should look to do in the future.  Like the old saying goes, “When you know better, DO BETTER!”  So let’s take a look at what we know and what steps we can take to support neurodiversity.

Autism Neurodiversity

The prevalence of autism has significantly increased over the last 20 years, with the most drastic changes happening in the last 10 years.  Currently,  The CDC reports the prevalence of autism as 1 in 44 children in the United States.  It is the most rapidly growing developmental disorder and is more common in boys than girls.  

Identity First Language

Historically, occupational therapy practitioners were trained to use “person first” language, so you may have heard us say things like “my students with autism”.  Kenny, L. et al (2015) found that medical professionals, family members, and friends preferred using person first language.  However, autistics report that person first language doesn’t recognize that autism is part of their identity. 

Although identity first language is preferred by many autistics, it is not the preference of all.  So, what can you do? 

To know better and do better, you can ask the individual. You can ask and honor the preferences of your students.  You can educate yourself on the neurodiversity movement which suggests that brain differences can be challenges, but they can also be strengths.

Going for gold in April instead of “lighting it up blue”

Autism Speaks is the largest organization that claims to support autistic individuals and their families.  They are also probably the most widely known and started the campaign to “light it up blue”.  However, the work they have done to bring awareness to autism, has come with criticism from autistic adults for their focus on finding a cure. 

Autistics are frustrated by the lack of representation within the Autism Speaks organization.  Much of the funding at Autism Speaks does not actually support autistic people. Most concerning is the lack of support for self-advocacy with a focus on the negative implications of living with autism.  

Light it up Gold instead of Light it up Blue.

The autistic community is trying to change the way we think about Autism awareness and acceptance.  While the color blue (seen as sad) or the puzzle piece symbol (seen as something is missing) has historically represented autism awareness, autistic adults have embraced using gold (whose chemical abbreviation is “Au”) to spread autism acceptance. 

Gold is regarded as having high value and represents authenticity.  

Here are some links to read more about promoting autism acceptance:

How can we use this information to improve our practices?

If you’re not sure what to do next, consider attending professional development opportunities or check out audiobooks for occupational therapists to learn how to support autistic clients and neurodivergent students. 

As you grow in your knowledge, don’t forget that the domain and process of occupational therapy will continue to frame your work.  

  • Evaluate your students using a top-down, strengths based approach.  Use what we know about sensory preferences and visual supports to highlight the strengths of our autistic students.  Check out this resource: Sensory Strategies for the School Based OT.
  • Listen to your autistic students as individuals in order to develop meaningful outcomes.  What are their goals?  What aspects of school are important for them?
  • Support neurodiversity- Don’t forget to assess the environment and make modifications to support neurodiversity using Sensory Diet Strategies for the Classroom.
  • Promote and educate on neurodiversity- Expand our inclusive practices to educate and promote acceptance in the school community about autism and neurodiversity.  Perspective taking goes both ways.
  • Embrace interests of the individual. Find out what interesting, meaningful for a shared connection. Integrating interests into therapy is exactly what occupational therapy is!

OT as an Autism Advocate

Lastly, we must use our occupational therapy voices to advocate for autistic students and neurodivergent learners. 

  • Talk to the administrators at your school about inclusion, acceptance, and perspective taking amongst all students. 
  • Educate families with autistic children about resources and supports that are available to them. 
  • Start conversations with coworkers who may not be as familiar with current trends related to autism and neurodiversity. 
  • Most importantly, teach and support your autistic students to share their perspectives and self advocate for their needs. 

Let’s honor autism and occupational therapy month by reflecting on the important work that we do and celebrate the amazing students we get to work with everyday!

Kenny, L., Hattersley, C., Molins, B., Buckley, C., Povey, C. & Pellicano, E. (2015). Which terms should be used to describe autism? Perspectives from the UK Autism community. Autism: 1-21.

Katherine Cook is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience primarily working in schools with students from preschool through Grade 12.  Katherine graduated from Boston University in 2001 and completed her Master’s degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study at Tufts University in 2010.  Katherine’s school based experience includes working in integrated preschool programs, supporting students in the inclusion setting, as well as program development and providing consultation to students in substantially separate programs.  Katherine has a passion for fostering the play skills of children and supporting their occupations in school. 

Productivity Hacks for Occupational Therapists

productivity for occupational therapy

These hacks for productivity for occupational therapy professionals are easy ways to make your life easier. School based Occupational Therapists are busy bees!  The jobs of a school based OT are many: supporting academic, lunchtime success, development of skills needed throughout the day, social skills development, math, reading and writing (i.e., literacy), behavior management, recess participation, participation in sports, organization and executive functioning skills, self-help skills, prevocational/
vocational participation, transportation, and more.

One of the biggest strategies to improve productivity is organization for the school based occupational therapist.  The ideas listed below are designed to help with organization in order to help the school based OT through their day.

Productivity for occupational therapists

Most school based OTs have a full caseload that involves several or many school buildings within a school district and/or a variety of school districts.  Each building has it’s own schedule, lunch times, special events, and holidays that must be tracked.

Within each building, the students who receive therapy services have a schedule of classes, special scheduling needs, and teacher preferences that require specific scheduled OT treatment timing.  parents, school principals, and other professionals have input into therapy scheduling as well.

Scheduling for the school based OT is a yearly nightmare of charts, calendars, lists, erasers, and crumbled papers.

Once schedules are finished, it’s time to begin treatment as each week and month brings new intervention minute requirements.  However, there are school delays, special assemblies, and sick kids to keep in mind.  Fitting make-up times into those already jammed schedules is a continual round of nightmares!

Some school based OTs are lucky to have a designated space to house all of their supplies, tools, charting, and supplies.  Others need to cart their intervention from school to school and work from the trunk of their vehicle as they think ahead to the needs of that particular day’s student needs.  Then they drop their supplies at a hidden desk in the stairwell and make their way through the schedule, pushing into classrooms, intervening in gym class, or addressing needs in the lunchroom or playground.

The school based OT’s day is never the same and always changing.

With all of these scheduling, planning, equipment, and space issues that interfere with productivity standards, any hack that makes us more organized can help!

These tools for productivity may help keep the school based OT organized and on track for a successful school year..  They are intervention strategies, productivity ideas, and generally tricks to help the school based OT get through their day in an easier way.

School based Occupational Therapists can use these productivity hacks to help with organization and productivity during the school day when treating students in the school environment.

Tools for Getting Organized as a School Based OT

Organization Tricks for the School Based OT A therapist who travels from classroom to classroom or building to building needs to stay organized! Try these tricks to stay sane.

Use Google Drive to create folders for each student as a way for students to save multiple documents to a folder in Google drive.

Create an organized caseload list and adjust to fit workload with time for consult services.

Create tracking tools for therapy attendance, contact information, assessment dates, consult records, daily and weekly schedules, school contact information (secretaries, teacher extension numbers and emails), equipment records, data sheets, goal sheets, etc.  Use Google Docs to create record sheets that meet specific needs.

These Google Sheets Caseload Management, Lesson Planning, and Data collection were made for SLP, but they could work for the OT, too. 

Printable Sheets for the School Based OT:

Create a file of regularly used printable sheets like:

Visual Processing Problems School Checklist

Tools for help the school based Occupational Therapist with monitoring goal achievement:

Amazon affiliate links:

Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy  -Improve Critical Thinking and Clinical Reasoning by Adding Rubrics to Assess Goal Progress with this book to improve data collection methods and documentation style with teachers in order to enable concise development of the IEP and goals targeted toward the student’s individual needs.  

The book provides rubrics but also shows how to design your own for improved organization planning and data collection. When annual review time comes around, goal progress is also easy to report.

Also check out our blog post on handwriting rubrics to support handwriting goals with data collection.

Sensory Strategies for the School Based Occupational Therapist:

Provide parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals with this Sensory Processing Disorder information packet (free printable)

A Buffet of Sensory Interventions provides solutions for older children in middle school and high school age ranges.  The book emphasizes the importance of fostering independence, self-advocacy and self-regulation in a period of growth that transitions into adulthood. 

Free Sensorimotor Classroom Activities (free printable)

Handwriting Tools for the School Based Occupational Therapist:

Handwriting Speed Norms by Grade Level

Keyboarding Speed Norms

The Ultimate Free List of Printable Adaptive Paper

Google Chrome Extensions for Struggling and Special Needs Students

Activities for Handwriting Problems– Tons of creative ideas to work on handwriting skills 

Additional Information for the School Based OT:

School Based OT Resources from AOTA

Productivity Tricks for the School Based OT on scheduling from Tx Source

Caseload to Workload from AOTA

School based Occupational Therapists can use these productivity hacks to help with organization and productivity during the school day when treating students in the school environment.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to