Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

So Why Should Occupational Therapists Bother to Write Rubrics?

Mostly, therapists read my posts on social media and then move on. Some comment positively and others, not at all. But then there are those times when there  is that one person who challenges you. I must say, that one person tends to get my fight on! I feel that I have to prove my work all over again. But I really love the debate. To those of you who feel that rubrics are not necessary, that’s okay. However, I feel they are.
Rubrics have been around for a very long time. During my research for my book, “Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy“I found that rubrics actually began not in the educational field but in the medical field, decades ago. I feel that rubrics were lost in the shuffle in part due to the changes in the provider/client relationship, moving from power over to power with and ultimately to power through our clients. Now that we are searching for ways to become more ‘client-centered’ as a profession, I feel that transparent, understandable documentation is the key.

It has always been our premise, as occupational therapists, to have our clients engaged in purposeful activity. With the increasing intrusion of third-party payment systems into what we do with our clients and the struggle to become ‘client-centered’ having a method of recording progress becomes increasingly important. Yes, of course, we need to get paid for our work but we also have an obligation to our clients, any one receiving our services.

We all have those people, who question what we do.  I am sure that each and every one of us has had this experience.  Sometimes we can explain what is going on, through statements based on clinical knowledge, but then there are other times that we need real data.  Some challengers will accept the “+” or “-” system of data collection [“+” yes the client was able to perform the task or “-” no the client was not able to perform the task]  while


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others want more information.

So rubrics offer us a method of documenting some of our thought processing with regard to critical thinking, clinical reasoning and judgment. Sharing rubrics with clients and caregivers provides them with a tool to engage them in the treatment process in a way that is greater than just sharing goals.  By encouraging clients to monitor their own progress they become more vested, more engaged and more accountable to themselves and to us, their service providers, ultimately leading to greater gains.

Rubrics may be initially time-consuming to learn and to write, just like any other skill, the experienced therapist will soon be developing rubrics a lightening speed and have at their disposal a wealth of data and documentation supporting our services.  In my humble opinion, if a therapist chooses to use or not to use rubrics, it is okay, it’s their decision.  I choose to use rubrics, engage my clients in progress monitoring, and have data specifically highlighting the client’s progress.  In my opinion, how can I expect my clients to make the best progress if I do not share my expectations with them. I feel that I empower my clients through the use of rubrics, because I want to, not because I have to.



Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Revisiting The Student Interview

The Student Interview CoverAI have worked with middle and high school students most often.  At this age, a student’s frustrations increase proportionally to the workload.  They are aware of what works and what does not work for them.  When frustrations run so high and parents begin to panic, it is at this time other professionals, advocate and lawyers, become involved.

The Student Interview was developed because of a number of school-based cases that I had been involved in were quite intense.  Every small detail of the case was explored in depth.  I felt that it was imperative that the student have a voice and that I had a document that asked all the right questions. While it is very sad to see the state of the educational system, as it is right now, I feel that the educational system is in transition.  There are always ups and downs when experiencing a transition.

Over the last few years, I have used this interview with many students.  Since this is a form to complete, it is good experience for a student in the transition process.  There is a variety of questions, relevant to the student’s educational, vocational and self-care needs.  Some questions require a yes or no response, while others are open-ended and call for more detail.  The Student Interview serves its intended purpose quite nicely. Since using The Student Interview, I have not had that “uh oh” moment when something comes up that I should be aware of.  At least nothing that I have not at least asked and have a response to.

I really love a student’s surprise when he or she is asked to complete the satisfaction survey.  This is often the very first time a student is asked for his or her opinion on services.  I, now, provide each student with this interview.  I find it an invaluable tool not only as written documentation but also as a basis for a deeper conversation regarding a student’s skills, and their perceptions of themselves.


Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Annual Review will be here before you know it–Create Balanced Assessments!

That’s right!  Annual review season will be here in just a few months.  You should start writing your annual reviews shortly.  During annual review, it is prudent to get a student’s feedback on what is working and what is not working.  Make sure that you have a way to gain that additional information.  An interview is always helpful to provide insight on a student’s ability to function not only in the classroom but also at home.  Parents so often paint a different picture of a student’s abilities at home.  Students can behave differently at home.

This is the time to put all your ‘ducks in a row.’  When assessing your students, make sure to have a balanced assessment with some type of real-life [authentic] assessment.  This often means having a rubric to demonstrate how a student’s progress has been judged and the data that supports the student’s progress.

Think about interviewing your student to learn about his or her insights into their skills. Did you ever think about providing your student with a satisfaction survey?  This is quite eye opening.  By developing a rapport with your students, you have the opportunity to create a report that is quite inclusive of all their skills and their opinions.  Listening to and including your student’s opinions leads to better goal development, better outcomes and improved compliance with recommended strategies.

Engage your students in every way possible to participate in collecting data and the development of their IEP.  You will go a long way in developing the respect and the trust of your students.

Posted in New Beginings

Is Occupational Therapy Overused?

I recently read an article from the New York Times that appeared several years ago about parents in New York City, particularly in Brooklyn, hiring occupational therapists for preschool children.  The article states, “In affluent neighborhoods in and around New York, occupational therapists have taken their place next to academic tutors, psychologists, private coaches and personal trainers — the army that often stands behind academically successful students.” (TYRE, 2010)  There were 115 comments attached to this article, many commenting on overly anxious parents or parents pushing their children to get an edge.  Others commented on how observant some parents are, noticing small problems, and addressing problems early on.  Any of these comments may or may not be true.  What I do know is this, if small issues are not addressed early on, they can and often will become major issues later on and more difficult to address.

Children develop at different rates.  There is never a distinct day or time that your child will do something.  Take for example, walking.  According to the CDC, your child should be walking independently by 18 months.  Yet we have seen children walk at 10 months and 12 months.  Does that mean that your child is motorically gifted?  Probably not.  So from this we can assume that there is at least a range of time in a child’s life when we should expect a child to begin walking.  Once outside this range, we should be asking questions of the doctor.

This range of development occurs within fine motor skills, as well.  The CDC lists many of these items under the heading of Cognitive (learning, thinking, problem-solving).  Under this heading are motor skills that an occupational therapist would address, such as using one hand more than the other (handedness), sorting, pointing (finger isolation), stacking (eye-hand coordination), throwing a ball, copying lines, etc.  All of these items are listed in the 2 year old section of their developmental checklist.  What is also listed in this checklist is when to be concerned and talk with your doctor.

Now look at the flip side of this issue, gaining an edge.  I was speaking with a colleague, a psychologist, at lunch the other day.  I had been considering writing on just this topic for my next blog post.  We both agree that there is a range in which a child should accomplish developmental milestones.  We also agree that pushing a child may backfire and frustrate the child because the brain may not be ready.  The brain will help a child accomplish a task when the brain is developed enough to handle the task.  While the basic structures are present at birth, the experiences [motor, cognitive, sensory] that a child has along with the actual physiological maturation of the brain further develop to increase the speed, efficiency, and complexity of signals in the brain which then allows the child to accomplish more difficult tasks.  In a fairly typically developing child, when the brain is ready, the task will occur and not before.

So as an occupational therapist, I might work on hand strengthening and finger isolation to help a young child to eventually develop a tripod grasp for a crayon.  Let’s just say that this did not occur adequately before kindergarten.  It may not be such an issue this year but when a student is challenged to keep pace with his or her peers in handwriting in subsequent years, it most definitely will.  Reaching middle school with handwriting problems just compounds the already difficult tasks, of taking notes at the same pace with peers, and writing legibly to express what they have learned.   Can you imagine, knowing that your child studied and knew this information but failed the test because his teacher was unable to read what was written?

Can you imagine thinking that your child is brilliant at an early age because he or she is ambidextrous? But in fact, has not developed a preferred hand which may be an early indicator of dyslexia.  Is it a sure sign of dyslexia?  No.  Only someone skilled in child development can determine if this is a problem or not.

So, I recommend that parents use the CDC Act Early Checklist to monitor a child’s development.  Keep in touch with your doctor and if concerned, ask the pediatrician to evaluate your child.  An occupational therapy evaluation does not require a prescription but services do.  Progress reports should be expected and shared with the pediatrician.

Acting early, helps your child be as successful as he or she can possibly be.  Once in school, having a child pulled from class for therapy can be embarrassing and frustrating.  He or she may be very receptive to services when young but very resistive when in a school setting, particularly middle and high school.  I have developed programming to address these needs.  We offer a free 30 telephone consult for any questions or concerns.   631-629-4699


TYRE, P. (2010, February 24). Watch How You Hold That Crayon. Retrieved from N.Y. Times: