This research project was conducted in collaboration with Heather Austin, OTR/L and the Puyallup School District. Through discussion with Heather, we determined that there is a need to study the efficacy of social-emotional learning (SEL) curricula for children with severe disabilities who often do not receive the same comprehensive SEL instruction as their peers in general education classrooms. A mixed-methods systematic review of the literature was conducted on strategies and interventions for SEL for students ages 3-12 years old in classrooms that serve students with severe disabilities. We analyzed 19 articles published in peer-reviewed journals by reviewing each for statistically significant results pertaining to SEL outcomes for the population of interest. Results indicated the majority of curricula included in this research had mixed to positive outcomes. Interventions with statistically significant findings included play-based treatments, art therapy, mindfulness, and theory of mind training, as well as branded curricula and strategies such as ICME, PATHS, Integra Social Competence Program, and Second Step.

Critically Appraised Topic findings were translated into the development of a quick reference guide which was organized by SEL outcome and structured according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning core competencies. Each outcome contained suggestions on dosage, intervention approaches, and resources for application. An in-service and survey were completed to evaluate usability of this product by practitioners and educators working in school-based settings. Fifty percent of respondents worked with students in self-contained classrooms. Overall the survey data revealed a positive trend of ratings and qualitative feedback from respondents and a good match of SEL outcomes addressed in the quick reference guide to needs identified by practitioners. A primary implication of our research is that the field of occupational therapy needs to capitalize on its potential to provide support to students with disabilities around their social participation and emotional regulation. Occupational therapy can support teachers in implementing SEL curricula and interventions to promote positive outcomes and reduce maladaptive behaviors.

Publication Place

Tacoma, Washington


University of Puget Sound

Project Chairperson

Jennifer Pitonyak, PhD, OTR/L, SCFES

Project Chairperson

Publication Date



Capstone Project





Degree Program

Occupational Therapy

Degree Level

Master of Science


Occupational Therapy


University of Puget Sound