February 8, 2018 1:25 pm


I recently finished a national speaking tour and during one of my workshops, an experienced therapist asked me an excellent question.

“DO you work on your IEP goals every session?”

My initial answer was easy: NO!

Allow me to explain. As therapists, we feel pressure to work; to prove ourselves; to be productive with the kids. So, at times, we push…even if the kids aren’t available for the demands we are putting on them.
The power we have as therapists is to be able to connect with kids in a way that many of our colleagues are envious of. We respect their sensory preferences and differences, and because of that, build trust. We can listen to their bodies, and we certainly can hear them communicate to us through their behaviors.

Although I have the goals in the back of my head, I am also mindful of what each and every child is going through in school. The curriculum is developmentally inappropriate. The academic demands are greater than they ever have been. They sit for long periods of time, and even when they get a chance to play, it’s often controlled.

Every behavior has a back story. Behavior is communication. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem. It’s the fever. Maybe they had a long weekend. Maybe they were late to the bus this morning. Maybe they didn’t eat well (or at all). And maybe, just maybe, Johnny can’t work on handwriting today, or cutting, because his mind is elsewhere. I respect that. I respect you, Johnny.

Hundreds of kids have taught me over the years that when I respect them, they in turn respect me. The handwriting will be there next time. For right now, let’s get you feeling great! Let’s get you “in green”, regulated, and ready to learn! Let’s send you back to class alive, awake, alert and ENTHUSIASTIC so you can enjoy your school day. Or maybe, let’s just pick you up so you can get through the day. Johnny, YOUR needs will dictate my session, not MY goals. I promise you this, though. At the end of the year, we’ll both get what we needed out of our sessions together.

If you have administrators who push you for data every session, I would confidently explain to them that I worked on self-regulation with Johnny so he can stay focused in the classroom, and it took me a session, or two, or four, to get there before I worked on my IEP goals. We tried to sit at the table to work on handwriting, but we ended up in the beanbags. Don’t worry…he’s learning. He’s learning about his body. When, and only when, he learns what his body needs, he’ll be able to learn how to form his letters.

We are blessed to have the “job” that we have. As Occupational Therapists, we have helped countless numbers of kids, most likely in ways we may never understand. Our goals are important. Proving what we do works is vital. But our priority is the kids. Connecting with them allows the magic of therapy to happen. Meet them where they are. Go into their world. When you do, they will follow you to wherever you need to go.

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