A class of first graders at Public School 503 in Brooklyn sat on the floor one recent Friday, cross-legged on an alphabet-themed rug.
But as their teacher began a reading lesson, two boys positioned near the letters C and D sat not on the rug, but in small plastic armchairs. One wore a tight blue vest designed to apply pressure to his chest, while the other drew his hands across a weighted, velvety blanket draped over his small knees.
“He really likes texture, and sometimes you’ll find him playing with the girls’ hair in front of him,” said Ashley Castaldo, an occupational therapist at the school. “It occupies his hands so his eyes aren’t on the carpet looking for things. Instead, he can attend a little bit more.”
These boys were using occupational therapy tools — the chairs, the vest, the blanket — to help them focus in class so they could absorb the day’s lesson.
And they had plenty of company. The number of children receiving such therapy in New York and elsewhere has shot up in recent years, the byproduct of increasing numbers of special-needs students, a new approach toward teaching them and, to a lesser extent, greater academic demands on all young children.