Therapist Ashley Scott’s Workspace Incorporates Shower Curtain, Family Dog, Plenty of Patience

Reinventing her office space during COVID-19 is an exercise in creativity for Harris County Department of Education occupational therapist Ashley Scott.

A shower curtain behind her chair in her bedroom serves as a backdrop for her whiteboard. She rehearsed her first online session with her mother, wanting to get things right before communicating virtually with students, parents and their teachers.

Dog Tommy, an Australian Shepherd, is stuck to her side, so she incorporates him into her sessions.

“You have to be creative, and the students enjoy variation,” she said. “My dog has helped a lot.”

Scott is one of the 150 School-Based Therapy Services staff who provides therapy services for children in school districts and charter schools in and around Harris County on behalf of HCDE. Children with disabilities benefit as the occupational therapist helps them participate in daily routines and activities at school. Occupational therapists also support academic achievement and promote positive behaviors necessary for learning, said Carie Crabb, senior director for School-Based Therapy Services.

“With some kids, it’s about staying focused, but that is hard when their whole routine has changed,” Scott said.

Parents are suddenly put into teaching roles, so she helps with activities and suggests how to improvise outside the classroom.

“Do you have a cookie sheet?” she recently asked a parent who is practicing the mechanics of writing letters with her child. “Have the child write letters with cool whip. Make letters from play dough.”

Many children have learning challenges associated with autism, Down syndrome and ADHD. When scheduling sessions with parents and students, she plans each session in advance.

“We’re helping them with what teachers are assigning in school,” she said. “If a child is having trouble organizing on paper, sometimes graph paper helps.”

She gives ideas about how to motivate learning. Breaks are a must, she cautions.

“You have to gauge how your child is doing attention-wise,” she said.

Sometimes breaks are needed to hop like a bunny, leap like a frog and lumber across the room like a bear.

For older kids, she recommends videos which incorporate exercise to give students a break in their daily lessons.

“I am giving parents coaching on how to use technology at home,” she said. “Tomorrow an older student is having trouble navigating Google classroom, so I’m helping with that.”

Scott will interact with multiple students within her contracted Houston Independent School District schools each day and hosts meetings with team members and teachers.

“By being a school therapist, you get to be a consultant and coach for teachers, and I like the idea of being on the move and going from school to school,” she said. “And I love working with kids.”

Regarding Tommy the dog, Scott is planning to use him in more activities as a reward for her students’ attentiveness.

“We’ll see how he behaves though because he’s pretty young,” she said. “He tries to steal the playdough and is constantly trying to chew up my pencils.”

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