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5 Steps to Improving Communication on the Special Education Team - August 14, 2009

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5 Steps to Improving Communication on the Special Education Team

By: Margaret Rice
owner of Your Therapy Source, Inc.

There are many members of the special education team such as students, parents, teachers, teachers assistants, administrators and related service providers. Occupational and physical therapists usually make up a small but important group of the special education team. Some team members, especially therapists, can have a varied caseload with students from different classrooms, grades and even schools which translates into working with many school staff members. This can make it very difficult to communicate effectively with all team members for each student. Each team member brings a different perspective on the student. Therapists don’t have the benefit of seeing most students daily like teachers do, therefore communication with the therapist and the student’s parents and teacher is crucial to determine a student’s on-going progress. It can be a struggle for parents from year to year. Parents may encounter new teachers, staff and therapists from school year to school year which can be frustrating. School staff, parents and school based therapists can help to forge stronger relationships by following five simple steps.


The most important step to improving communication is to introduce yourself to as many of the members of the students' special education team as possible including their primary instructors, teaching assistants, physical educators, computer teacher, etc . By forming relationships with the school staff, you will be more likely to hear about therapy concerns that a teacher may have about a student. Therefore, you may be able to address those concerns before they impact the student’s educational abilities further. If you do push in therapy, you will most likely be more comfortable with the staff members. If some of your students are pulled out of the classroom for therapy sessions, frequently observe them in the classroom as well making yourself more visible and available to other staff members.

Many times the parents are the true team leaders. They can provide all the past medical and educational history and the best overview of the child. Therapists should always remember to introduce yourself to the parents of the student. Send a letter home or make a phone call to provide the parent with your contact information if they should have any questions. Ask the parents what their concerns are regarding the students current therapy services. Make sure that you have current phone numbers and email addresses for each parent.


More and more students with special needs are being included in regular education settings, resulting in many teachers not being fully aware of the role of school based occupational and physical therapists. Educate team members about what your role is in the educational setting as early as possible. You want to avoid situations where three months into the school year a teacher asks the physical therapist why the student is not working on handwriting. Therapists can try giving an inservice to the staff members answering the basic questions of school based therapy such as: What is occupational or physical therapy? What is the difference between school based and medically based therapy? What type of activities will you be working on? Define for teachers and parents frequently used therapy terminology. Simplify complex topics such as sensory integration, neurodevelopmental treatment and muscle tone. Schedule the inservice during school hours and evening hours as well so that parents can attend.

Parents and school staff offer so much knowledge and insight on a student. Tap into that knowledge and learn from other team members. Therapists see just a snapshot of a students daily life and they need to see the whole picture. This can be accomplished through observation, listening and asking questions about a students overall daily life.


You will need to determine how you will communicate with all the team members. Establish this as early in the school year as possible and with a positive attitude. Perhaps a monthly meeting with a teacher or phone call home would be an effective way to address current goals or concerns. Maybe sending weekly or monthly progress reports to the teachers and parents may be a suitable option for some students. E-mail can be a simple way for many parties to communicate at one time by carbon copying your email to all members of the team. Don’t always offer criticism or problems. If a student does particularly well on a task during therapy let the teachers and the parents hear about it. For students with many team members, one option is a specialized notebook such as My School Journal published by Your Therapy Source Inc. ( This is a daily or weekly log that allows for quick, simple written documentation from a student's parents, teachers, therapists and other staff members.


Therapy is only provided for a limited amount of time for each student. In order for therapy goals to be met, most therapeutic activities and ideas must be carried out throughout the students entire day. Teachers and parents are the primary instructors in the students life. By providing teachers and parents with carry over activities this ensures that the student is maximizing his/her potential. Offer activities that are easy to perform throughout the course of the day rather than "therapy homework" which adds one more thing for a teacher or parent to supervise. Try providing parents and teachers with fun, easy, therapeutic games that can be played with the child. Keep in mind that the activities should be written in simple format with no medical terminology.

Check with teachers and parents for ideas and activities that they need carried over during therapy sessions. If a student is following a certain behavior plan you will want to know what that entails. If a student is working on a specific subject matter that needs reinforcement, perhaps you could incorporate academic material into the therapy session.

All members of the team should always respond promptly to any issues or concerns that arise. Make sure to answer any notes or questions that you receive in a timely manner. This allows the special education team members to know that you have read and validate their comments. Fulfill all the requests made of you, that way you can expect the same in return from the special education team. If you make a suggestion during a team meeting, be sure to follow through on the suggestion and be available to offer feedback on how it went at the next meeting.

By following these five steps, everyone’s voice will be heard on the special education team which is of great value to a student's overall success.

Featured Author: Margaret Rice, PT owner of Your Therapy Source

Special Thanks to Margaret Rice, PT, and Your Your Therapy Source for providing an article for our website.

Margaret Rice PT, has authored two books on pediatric group therapy, 25 Instant Sensory Motor Group Activities and Sensory Motor Group Activities from A to Z

Please support our contributing authors and visit Your Therapy Source. Your online resource for special needs and pediatric therapy publications. Visit for free downloads, newsletter and to view a full list of titles.

She can also be reached by email at:

Tags: August 2009 PT SLP Special Education OT School Based Psychology School Based OT School Based Speech School Based PT Article