University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Redesigning Lives Globally
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Training Occupational Therapy Specialists

Training Occupational Therapy Specialists: Personnel Preparation to Serve Young Children with Disabilities

From 2008 to 2013, the Training Occupational Therapist Specialists (TOTS) program fostered the specialized preparation needed for entry-level occupational therapists to serve infants, toddlers, and young children with special needs throughout California and nationally. Funded by an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (CFDA # 84.325K award number H325K080306), TOTS integrated dynamic coursework with mentored and individualized field experiences which capitalized upon the diversity of southern California and world-class training settings.

For each of four academic years, the TOTS project assigned 15 select USC students in the second year of their entry-level master’s degree program to a part-time fieldwork site. The students were mentored by a clinical instructor in working with infants, toddlers and young children eligible for early intervention services. These hands-on, practical experiences were supplemented with classroom learning on school-based practice focused on early intervention, preschool and early elementary interventions. In addition to the fieldwork mentoring, TOTS trainees received a $10,000 scholarship to support their participation.

Training content promoted a relationship-based approach to practice mentored students in the application of evidence-based practices. Recommended practices such as services in natural environments, the use of infant/family mental health strategies, collaboration and coaching models, working with a multidisciplinary team, and supportive transition were especially highlighted. Experiences that promoted cultural competence were integrated in all aspects of the project and practiced during field experiences. All trainees received mentoring by nationally recognized faculty and consultants. Numerous community partners, including local school districts and other agencies dedicated to early intervention services, provided exemplary field experiences. Respected experts provided consultation and a diverse Advisory Council incorporated consumers at all levels such as the California Early Start representative, parents of children with disabilities and other leaders in the field.