The OT Innovation
For students with special needs, entering the workforce can present new challenges and add anxiety and uncertainty to their lives. Thanks to Deborah Schwind, an innovative OTR working for Loudoun County Public Schools, students are introduced to vocational skills early in their education and use school routines to build transition skills, leading to more positive outcomes upon graduation.
The program that Dr. Schwind developed is rooted in the belief that transition must be a continuum that begins early. She created a community-based instruction (CBI) program that focuses on developing job skills and work behaviors in elementary school rather than in high school.
As an OTR, Dr. Schwind recognized that off-campus CBI trips in elementary school were sometimes more of a field trip, and for some students, being in unpredictable, unfamiliar places without a routine caused anxiety. These students needed consistency, familiar routines, familiar adults, a familiar environment, and predictability.
Dr. Schwind gathered a team of stakeholders—administrators, teachers, related service providers, and parents—who began collaborating and asking questions. They determined that they wanted the students to perform tasks in a familiar environment so academic skills from the classroom could be generalized in meaningful, functional, and purposeful ways. It was clear to Dr. Schwind that the solution was school-based CBI. She hypothesized that by using school-based CBI, students would have additional learning opportunities outside of the regular classroom for generalizing skills consistently. Instead of leaving the school premises for CBI one day a week, students could practice tasks every day at school. A predictable, familiar environment would cause less sensory overstimulation and sensory overload. Instructional time could be enhanced, not lost.
In-school jobs are introduced weekly through live and video modeling, demonstration, and role play, as well as by using adapted books that incorporate the vocabulary for a specific job. With support from the speech-language pathologist, students practice conversational skills with visuals.