What is School Physical Therapy?
Physical Therapists (PTs) provide services to a student when it is required in order to implement that student's educational program. As a related service, the goal of PT is to enable students with disabilities to achieve functional independence in the school environment. These services to students, school teams, and families may include:
- Recommending strategies, modifications, and adaptive aids in order to improve school performance, and to include disabled students in school activities
- Developing activities to improve large muscle control and balance, to promote sensorimotor development (body awareness, postural control), and/or to promote independence in functional mobility skills
School PT intervention is limited to that which is required for the student to benefit from their educational program. There may be aspects of a student's disability which do not interfere with education but could be addressed by a physical therapist in another setting.
PTs may provide service to a school team on behalf of a student to help school personnel and parents work more effectively and efficiently with the student. It may include:
- Explaining how a student's medical, sensorimotor, or developmental problem will affect his school performance
- Suggesting modifications to school activities and the school environment
- Adapting positioning equipment for use in school
- Instructing in the use and care of adapted and assistive devices
- Developing, demonstrating, and monitoring the effectiveness of therapeutic activities carried out by school personnel
PTs may also provide service directly to a student, whether individually or in a group. It is used when the intervention activities require the expertise of a PT or Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA). It may include:
- Implementing therapeutic activities to support a student's educational program when PT expertise is required for safety or effectiveness
- Exploration of seating and positioning adaptations that will increase independence or participation in school activities
- Training school staff in skills required for the physical management of the student, including specific handling techniques or helping a student to use special equipment
- Exploring individualized modifications to school activities or the environment (ex. using special equipment to move around the school)
- Ongoing reassessment of the student's needs and the role of the PT in meeting those needs
To be eligible for school PT service, students must:
- Be identified as having a disability that interferes with education under the criteria of IDEA (the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended;
- Have neuromuscular problems that interfere with their ability to move about the classroom or other areas of the school, or to participate in the motor activities needed to access their education;
- Need PT intervention to become more independent or better able to participate in school activities.
School PT service is provided by licensed PTs and PTAs.
PTs and PTAs are part of the interdisciplinary team that plans and monitors the student's special education IEP or 504 plan.