Physical Therapy Services

Role of School-based Physical Therapy:

A physical therapist’s expertise lies in assessment and treatment of human movement and impairment of movement due to disabling conditions.  The school-based physical therapist addresses gross motor skills needed for a student to participate in their educational program and safely access their school environment. This may include skills such as traveling in the classroom and on school grounds, participating in recess, and getting on and off the school bus.

What is School Based Physical Therapy (PT)?

School-based physical therapists work with other professionals to help students with physical disabilities benefit from their special education.  This includes activities during a school day, like moving throughout school grounds, sitting, standing in line or at the board, and moving in the classroom or through the building.

Who Provides School Based Physical Therapy?

Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.  Interventions may include:

  • Adapting school environments

  • Working with students on motor skills

  • Consulting with the IEP team on special equipment needed in the school setting

  • Collaborating with school staff and other professionals at school and in the community

What is the difference between School-based PT and Clinical (outpatient) PT?

School-based PT and clinical PT differ in the areas of:

  • Who determines eligibility for PT?

  • Scope of PT service

The distinction between school-based PT and clinical PT is confusing for many people.  School-based PT is provided only to enable students with an IEP to access the educational program and benefit from instruction.  The goal is to make the student available to instruction rather than to correct all motor deficiencies the student may have.  The techniques used by PTs in the school system are often the same as those used in an outpatient setting, however, the goals must address the student’s educational needs.

Who makes a referral for school-based PT?

A referral is made when a school staff member identifies that a student is having difficulty safely accessing their school environment or participating in their school day.  However, in the medical setting referral to physical therapy is usually by a physician or a parent who is concerned about a child’s development.

Who assesses a student’s need for physical therapy?  

Once a referral is made and a meeting is held to determine the need for assessment, a physical therapist will assess the student in the educational setting. There are many ways a PT can assess the child to determine difficulties in the school setting:

  • Concerns of teachers, parents, and other personnel

  • Observation of child in different school settings

  • Functional school assessments

  • Movement assessments and observations of a student’s balance, coordination, strength, and gross motor skills

  • Standardized tests

Who determines need for school-based PT?

A child’s need for services is determined by a multidisciplinary team, with the recommendation of a licensed Physical Therapist.  The team includes parents, educators, curriculum specialists, the student, and other service providers such as occupational and speech therapists. Team members review and discuss the available assessments, medical reports, and observations to determine the student’s needs and goals.  If a child has goals that require the expertise of a physical therapist to safely access and/or participate in their special education, therapy services are provided as part of the child’s educational plan. Some children who receive outpatient physical therapy may not need school-based services to safely access and benefit from instruction.

The decision to discontinue therapy is determined by the IEP team and based on many factors. A student may be dismissed from physical therapy when the student no longer has a need for special education; when other school personnel can implement necessary intervention; or when a child can perform school tasks without therapy intervention.

School based therapy uses a team approach.  

  • PT’s work closely with teachers and other school personnel so skills gained are integrated into the student’s educational program and daily routine.

  • PT’s work with other team members for inclusion in the classroom and other school settings such as the lunchroom, art, playground or PE class is promoted whenever possible

  • Parents have the opportunity to collaborate and learn strategies from the therapists to help their child.

How are services delivered?  

School-based physical therapy may be delivered in a variety of ways:

  • One on one service with the student in the classroom or in a separate setting

  • In small groups or in co-treatment with another therapist or teacher

  • Consultatively by the therapist working with the teacher and school staff who instruct the child on a daily basis

Collaborating with educational staff to modify the child’s environment and daily school activities are often a part of school therapy.