What I Learned as an OT at the Council for Exceptional Children Conference

I had the privilege to attend the national conference of the Council for Exceptional Children last week. As a school-based occupational therapist, I usually gravitate toward conferences that are taught and hosted by OTs or other healthcare professionals. But what I took away from this new (for me) opportunity brought an eye-opening surprise.

OTs in schools work in a niche; we are specialized and we prefer to learn about the smaller topics in our niche. Fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and sensory processing skills are several of our favorite topics. Math interventions, IEP development, the Common Core, and state testing topics—the subjects I hear my friends in special education discussing—are often lost on me.

Where I find myself on common ground with my special education colleagues is in the area of student behavior. Why my students behave a certain way in the classroom and how their teachers and I can collaborate to improve their access to curriculum is a constant topic of discussion. Executive functioning skills, self-regulation skills, functional behavior plans, and PBIS are some of the buzzwords I hear floating around my schools these days. They are also topics of great interest to me, as many of the referrals I receive are related to student behavior in the classroom.

In my many years working in public schools throughout the Midwest, I have never been offered formal training in the area of behavior, and had never, until recently, known about CPI's Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training. This could be because my work with students is usually one-on-one and many times separate from the general education classroom.

At the CEC conference, I attended a couple of exhibitor sessions presented by trainers from CPI. The topics were trauma-informed care and avoiding power struggles. Both sessions were informative and helped me understand what CPI offers to educators. Even though my school district is a CPI customer, I was not aware that Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training had so many customizing opportunities for various teams while still providing a common-language framework for everyone. I left thinking, "Why didn't I know this?"

For the rest of the conference, I found myself inserting casual questions about CPI into conversations to see if I was alone in my thinking. For example, at one poster session that displayed a research project on trauma-informed care, I asked the presenters if they used any information from CPI in their research.

"No," she said, "CPI is about restraint and seclusion training."

"Actually," I said, "I just attended a very good exhibitor session about trauma-informed care from CPI. It seems like they have quite a bit to offer on that subject."

"Oh really? I'm sorry I missed that! It would have been nice to be in a session with some like-minded people and network with them," she said.

I left the conference excited to go back to my district and inquire about how CPI training and resources can help all staff better manage challenging behaviors. Coincidentally, my special education director is working on an initiative to reframe the attitudes about student behavior in our district. I think we have an untapped resource at our disposal!


Amy J. Mason, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and assistive technology consultant with the School District of Menomonee Falls.
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About the Author

“Every individual on this earth deserves to be treated with compassion, understanding, and the right to keep their dignity intact. This can be difficult to honor at times when someone loses control of their behavior, but that’s where Rational Detachment and not taking it personally really kicks in. What has helped me be able to do this well goes back to the first day I was introduced to Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training. I was a participant before becoming a Certified Instructor (and before working for CPI), and over the years I have had so many opportunities to use what I learned way back then. Today, I live the skills automatically. It’s an honor to have been given those skills to live the philosophy of treating others the way I want to be treated.”

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