OT Research Article Spotlight: Sensory-Based Interventions in the School Setting: Perspectives of Paraeducators

Article

Sensory-Based Interventions in the School Setting: Perspectives of Paraeducators

Authors

Lyn K. Kaiser, OTD, MS, OTR/L; Marie-Christine Potvin, Ph.D., OTR/L; Caitlin Beach, OTS.

Journal

Open Journal of Occupational Therapy

Research Design

Qualitative approach with an ethnographic research design.

Purpose

  • Identify the Sensory-Based Interventions (SBI) that paraeducators use in the classroom
  • Discover paraeducators’ perceptions of how frequently they implement SBIs
  • Explore paraeducators’ perceptions regarding the efficacy of SBIs
  • Discover paraeducators’ perceptions regarding any perceived barriers in the use of SBIs

Methods

Sensory-Based Interventions in the School Setting: Perspectives of Paraeducators

Participants

Sampling and Recruitment

  • Convenience sample from a center-based special education program in a suburban area in Pennsylvania.
  • The primary researcher had no direct personal or professional ties to the special education program
  • Recruitment occurred using mailers, posters, and word of mouth.
  • Only paraeducators that were not known by the primary researcher either personally or professionally were recruited

Inclusion Criteria

  • A minimum of 6 months of experience working as a paraeducator and at least one student with whom SBIs were used.

Exclusion Criteria

No exclusionary criteria provided. However, researchers noted that paraeducators that had a personal or professional relationship with the primary researcher were not recruited or used in the sample. The primary researcher also did not have a direct personal or professional relationship with the special education program.

Sample

  • 14 participants indicated interest in being part of the study.
  • 2 cancelled due to scheduling conflicts and 1 cancelled for an unknown reason
  • Of the 3 that cancelled, 1 accepted an invitation for a personal interview using the same questions and probes that were used with the focus groups.

Demographics

All of the participants were women, most were between the ages of 35-60 years old, White, and college educated.

Data Collection

Instrumentation

  • Completion of a socio-demographic questionnaire that included questions regarding training and job satisfaction
  • Open-ended questions and probes provided in focus groups afterschool and for 1 participant, a one-on-one interview using the same questions and probes that were used in focus groups. No information provided on the number of focus groups, number in each focus group, and length of time of the focus groups.
  • Interviews were audio-recorded and then transcribed verbatim with a second researcher reviewing 30% of transcript for a second level of analysis for accuracy.

Data Analysis

Table 1. Data analysis process—coding, ensuring reliability, and validity.

The 4-step process developed by Green and colleagues (2007) was used to analyze the transcripts.  

Step 1–Transcripts were read and re-read and initial notes were taken.

Step 2–Coding using words and phrases to represent the ideas in the transcripts.

Step 3 With this coding key, data were  grouped together to create categories.

Step 4–Themes that emerged from the analysis were recorded and interpreted in relation to the study objectives.  
To ensure reliability, three research assistants reviewed the transcripts with to ensure inclusion of all participant comments in the development of the code key.

To ensure validity, one participant reviewed the information to ensure that the data analysis captured what was discussed in the focus group.  
The primary researcher used reflective journaling to  clarify her views regarding the efficacy of SBIs for another layer of validity with data analysis.

Results

Table 2. Types of SBIs commonly used and Perceptions with frequency of use, efficacy, and barriers to use of SBIs.

Types of SBIs Commonly UsedPerceptions regarding Frequency of Use of SBIsPerceptions regarding Efficacy of SBIsPerceptions of Barriers to the Use of SBIs
Proprioceptive input— including weighted blankets, physical pressure.

Providing tactile input—such as fidgets.

Vestibular input—taking walks, dynamic seating.

Auditory input—listening to music.

Oral input—chew tubes
Daily as needed, often less than 5 minutes during the school day.  All participants had positive perceptions of SBIs used.

Interventions facilitated behavioral control and participation in learning activities

Prevented behavioral challenges.
Lack of supplies, space to store items, or staffing to implement strategies.

Students use SBIs for work avoidance.

SBIs distracting other students

Table 3. Paraeducators’ perceptions on need for training and support.

Need for Training and Support  

When asked how they learn about SBIs strategies to use with a student. Paraeducators responded:  

They learn what SBIs work best for students through trial and error.

Get to know students to determine what works best.

Experience with student allows them to determine what SBI would work well.

Formal training from the education agency.  
When asked from whom* and the quality of support received. Paraeducators responded:

 Professionals that provided support:  

Teachers, Behavioral technicians, supervisors, school psychologists, and occupational therapists  
Quality of Support  

Responses included “phenomenal support”.

Questionnaire: majority were satisfied or highly satisfied with training and support received.    

*There was no indication by researchers if survey questions on ‘support/training’ asked about support/training on SBIs or in general. Also, researchers indicated support, in general, in article. So, this is not clear.

Limitations

  • Small sample size from one school. Having the perspective of paraprofessionals from other schools would allow for a more varied view of perceptions on SBIs that could have altered the outcome.
  • Homogenous racial and gender group. There was no variety with race or gender to allow for a different perspective on the perceptions on SBIs. The lived experience of individuals affects perceptions. This different viewpoint may have added other types of responses with efficacy or barriers that could have altered the outcome.
  • There was no clarification if support or training was with respect to what was provided on SBIs or in general. This is a large piece of the discussion and having an understanding if training is provided specifically on SBIs would help to give more context to the perceptions of the paraeducators with the training portion of this study.
  • More insight into the differences between what was recommended for a student and what was implemented would have been helpful to have a better understanding of the frequency of use portion of this study. It could be possible that 5 minutes daily is what was recommended by the treating occupational therapy practitioner or it may not be if the recommendation is to have the specific intervention for a certain period of time.

Takeaways for Clinicians, Academic Instructors, and Students:

  • Collaborate with other professionals to successfully implement Sensory-Based Interventions strategies. Train, support, and modify as needed to ensure that all professionals providing SBI are on the same page with the intervention.
  • Consider supplies, space to store materials, and staffing considerations for intervention. Also, consider the impact of an intervention on other students in the classroom and problem solve to ensure that other students will not be distracted. If other students are distracted, this will also decrease the likelihood that the strategy will be implemented.

In addition to takeaways above, academic instructors can note the following:

  • A constant theme in this article was educational professionals have been found to not implement strategies they do not perceive as effective. This is an important consideration with SBI strategies because of the prominent role of occupational therapy practitioners with addressing sensory issues. It would be beneficial for students to understand the importance of ensuring efficacy from the educator’s perspective to make certain that the strategies or utilized. This would be an opportunity to collaborate to allow for implementation.

In addition to takeaways above for clinicians and academic instructors, students can note the following:

This study is a good foundational study for a quantitative study with more specific questions based on outcomes of this study. If a qualitative study is duplicated, a larger sample size and multiple schools would allow for a more comprehensive view with efficacy, barriers, and frequency of use of SBIs strategies.  

Citation

Kaiser, L., Potvin, M., & Beach, C. (2020). Sensory-Based Interventions in the School Setting: Perspectives of Paraeducators. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 8(3), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.15453/2168-6408.1615

Access to this article can provide more information on background to support the study’s purpose, demographic information, information on what was asked in the questionnaires. The researchers also provided quote excerpts within each theme to support conclusions. This is an Open Access article. Access can be found using the DOI above or this link: Paraeducators’ perspectives about sensory-based interventions in schools.

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