Enabling Participation of Children with Developmental Delays and Disabilities at School: School-based Allied Health Professionals as a Resource for Teachers
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Millions of dollars are spent annually in Canada providing school health support services (SHSS) to children with developmental delays and disabilities (DD) as an important support for inclusive education. However, there is limited information about how allied health professionals (AHP) work together with educators to integrate therapy strategies into educational programming for children with DD. This study examines the strategies AHPs, in Ontario perceived to be successful and are implementing with educators to support participation outcomes for children with DD in the primary grades. This study also describes AHPs’ vision for the future in order to improve their work practices to support participation of children with DD at school. Recognizing that the literature on SHSS has emphasized challenges to providing services to children with DD and collaboration with educators; this study actively employed appreciative inquiry (Preskill, & Catsambas, 2006). Individual in-depth interviews with 15 AHPs (11 OTs, 1 PT, 3 SLPs) were conducted via face-to-face, telephone or video conference. Participants were asked to describe how they viewed participation at school for children with DD, their role in supporting it, the strategies they used to work with educators to support this participation and their vision for the future. AHPs in this study viewed participation of children with DD at school as (a) being in the classroom to provide the opportunity for meaningful engagement with peers and (b) working on similar activities as peers to promote membership and belonging at school. Participants implemented their role to support participation of children with DD by providing equipment, modifying or adapting activities, educating and providing resources to educators. Successful strategies AHPs used to work with educators to facilitate participation of children with DD at school included: finding a key person, developing trust and rapport with an educator, engaging in shared planning with an educator, seeking feedback from educators about their recommendations and listening to educators regarding information about the child with a DD. AHPs also identified their vision for the future in supporting participation of children with DD. Their vision included being a resource to teachers, by consulting to a whole class and being a member of the educational team.