Occupational therapists (OTs) play a key role in supporting students in a broad array of occupations to create academic proficiency. However, one of our students’ most important occupations, reading, is one that few OTs address. While reading is most often approached from a language processing perspective, Lenin et al. (2016) explain approaching reading assessment and intervention from the perspective of occupational participation could positively impact struggling readers and support existing interventions. Reading is a complex, acquired skill that is developed within the brain.
Reading proficiency consists of 5 key components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Occupational therapists can use their skilled understanding of brain development and the systems that impact it to support the development of those components as well as help identify where any breakdowns may be occurring.
Maude LeRoux is an occupational therapist who understands the unique role that occupational therapists can play in supporting reading proficiency. Le Roux has a decades-long history of providing a wide range of treatments through her own practice, and training other professionals across the globe, both in-person and through her online academy (Maude Le Roux Academy). Around 2009, she began to have a revelation that many of the children she was working with were responding well to sensory integration therapy and making gains in many functional areas, except for the skill of reading. This led her to dig deeper into the research on reading and how reading can be supported and developed.
Knowing OT’s crucial role in development, Le Roux paired the existing research on reading with her expertise as an occupational therapist to develop her own protocol to support students who were struggling with reading. Le Roux’s unique take on assessing breakdowns in reading development focuses on the visual system, auditory system, and the timing of the interaction between the two, along with assessing the vestibular system and visual-spatial function. While most reading programs place a high focus on phonics, Le Roux recognizes that a child can’t learn phonics if they don’t have an adequate speed of processing in the auditory system. Additional issues may arise if there is a lag in how the visual system processes with the auditory system.
When a tutor or educator works with a student on reading, typically the pace at which the words are read aloud is slowed down and each word is pointed to as it is read. While this strategy is a rather intuitive approach, it takes for granted the student’s ability to quickly visually track and at the same time process the letter sounds. Reading relies on split-second timing to ensure that when the finger points to the word, both the eyes are able to track to that location and the brain is able to decipher what the sound is nearly simultaneously. This is something that we cannot teach, and unfortunately is something that is not efficiently occurring for many of our students who struggle with reading.
Following the assessment, Le Roux creates an intervention plan that most often starts with focusing on the visual and auditory systems and how they process information. From there, processing speed can be addressed. Later on in the intervention process, the pieces are put together to focus on fine-tuning the timing and praxis. Other interventions can be incorporated to further support success with reading proficiency. ReadLS, Learning Breakthrough, and Astronaut Training are just a few that Le Roux utilizes and recommends. ReadLS is a game-based cognitive therapy program designed to improve reading skills by strengthening neural networks through targeting the auditory and visual systems. Learning Breakthrough is another brain training program that utilizes a multi-sensory approach through balance, motor skills, feedback, planning, and repetition to improve processing. Astronaut Training is a sensory-based protocol designed to optimize vestibular system functioning through the administration of precise vestibular input paired with specific sound and vision input.
As occupational therapists, we have the opportunity to bring a lot to the table when it comes to reading. While many OTs shy away from reading and attribute the area as “belonging” to educators, we are missing out on the opportunity for a great partnership. While OTs have extensive education in brain development, educators are faced with taking on the developmental skill of reading. Although educators teach the skill of reading, occupational therapists have the opportunity to develop the brain pathways and prepare students so that they can be taught the skill of reading with more efficiency and success. OTs also have the opportunity to support students engaged in existing reading programs with the addition of sensory integration techniques.
If you’re interested in learning more about the crucial role OTs can play in reading, I welcome you to join Maude Le Roux in the two-part live webinar series hosted by Integrative Education on April 4th and 5th, 2022.
Learn more and register at Live Webinars | Integrative Ed.
Lenin C. Grajo, Catherine Candler, Patricia Bowyer, Sally Schultz, Jennifer Thomson, Karen Fong; Determining the Internal Validity of the Inventory of Reading Occupations: An Assessment Tool of Children’s Reading Participation. Am J Occup Ther May/June 2016, Vol. 70(3), 7003220010p1–7003220010p9. doi: https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2016.017582