Physical therapy is a "…supportive service required to assist a student with a disability to benefit from special education..."(IDEA, 2004). Students who receive physical therapy services in the school setting have been determined to need physical therapy to benefit educationally.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) physical therapy is considered a related service which is a service that is necessary for a student to make progress on educational goals. If the student is unable to make progress on specific motor skills, self-help skills, positioning, mobility or environmental access, a referral for an evaluation by a physical therapist may be made. The ARD committee relies on the physical therapy evaluation for information that is necessary to determine a student's needs for physical therapy in the school setting. School based therapy is intended to meet the needs of the student to promote success in the school setting.
The physical therapist uses a variety of activities and adaptations in the areas of self-care, mobility and play to increase functional independence, enhance development and prevent disability. The task or the environment may be adapted to promote maximum independence and improve quality. All team members support the attainment of the student’s educational goals. Therefore, therapy and other related services integrate services into the classroom to support educational goals rather than the focus of separate therapy goals.
If a child is receiving private or clinical physical therapy, will he/she automatically receive physical therapy in the school setting?
Not necessarily. The goal of medical/clinical therapy is to treat the symptoms of the underlying cause of a student’s disability. The goal of educational therapy is to assist the student in attaining educational goals. For example, in clinical therapy a child’s goals may include increasing range of motion or strength and decreasing muscle tone to improve quality of movement. In the educational environment, this student’s disability might not interfere with his/her ability to perform in the classroom and, therefore, the student may not demonstrate an educational need for services in the school setting.
What are some examples of areas physical therapists may address in the school setting?
- Functional mobility skills
- Self-help skills
- Adaptive equipment
- Architectural accessibility
How does the physical therapist fit into the inter-disciplinary team?
Physical therapy is a support service; one of the main goals is to assure that the student receives recommended programs and adaptations throughout each school day. To accomplish this, the instructional staff is trained by the physical therapist to carry out these programs in all areas of the student’s educational environment. Working together as a team, the physical therapist and the school staff can provide the optimum means of achieving the IEP goals. Federal law mandates that each student should be served in the least restrictive environment. This often means that the student is working daily with his/her classroom teacher/staff on a program recommended by the physical therapist.