The purpose of this study was to identify the perceived appropriateness, extent, and types of services provided by occupational therapists to children with emotional disturbances in public schools. A nationally mailed survey was conducted of randomly selected school occupational therapists derived from the American Occupational Therapy Association School System Special Interest Section list. The sampling frame was 982 with a response rate of 48% (n = 476).

Eighty-seven percent of all respondents were supportive of school occupational therapy for students with emotional disturbances, although these students made up only a small proportion of their caseload. The therapists indicated that a variety of intervention approaches were used with most targeting educational areas, especially handwriting. The most commonly reported intervention was sensory integration.

Many respondents perceived that they could not provide effective interventions because they were not appropriately trained. Perceived lack of knowledge and confusion about occupational therapy’s role may lead to underutilization of occupational therapy for addressing the complex needs of children with emotional disturbances. Further research and discussion are needed in the profession to arrive at consensus regarding what approaches are most appropriate and effective in schools.

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