What Is School-Based Physical Therapy?
School-based physical therapy (PT) helps students with physical disabilities or gross motor, balance, or endurance deficits safely access their academic curriculum, school environment, and daily routine. Physical therapists might help students with:
- Getting on and off the school bus
- Accessing outdoor play equipment
- Safely navigating stairs, curves, and ramps
- Securing adaptive seating
They are a part of a related services team provided through a student’s IEP and will be involved in all aspects of a student’s treatment plan, including assessment and identification, IEP development, implementation, and evaluation and reviews.
How Physical Therapists Help Students in the Classroom
School-based physical therapists are specialists in movement who can help students in a variety of ways based on their unique needs, including:
- Modifying the environment as needed
- Altering expectations to maximize success and independence
- Educating teachers and staff to help encourage and enhance a student’s physical participation
Their focus will be on any physical activity that allows students to fully access their education, including walking in line, stair climbing, balancing, writing, and strength—especially of the core and postural muscles.
Supporting Students at Different Stages
During the implementation phase of a student’s IEP treatment plan, school-based physical therapists focus on how gross motor function impacts a child’s ability to access the general school environment, including:
- Balancing in a classroom chair or on the floor
- Moving from class to class and throughout the school and using stairs
- Navigating playground equipment or participating in gym class
In older students, a school-based PT may ensure that they have the materials needed to navigate their environment, like a wheelchair, adaptive chairs, and adaptive toilets. The PT will also advocate for the student to ensure staff and teachers are well educated in how to transfer the student in and out of adaptive equipment.
In many cases, students require only consultative services from a physical therapist, enabling teachers and other professionals to strategize on how best to overcome learning obstacles that have resulted from a motor impairment.
Who Qualifies for School-Based PT?
Through the appropriate assessments, a well-qualified physical therapist can help you discern which students will and won’t qualify for school-based PT. Students who do qualify for this program often include:
- Students who cannot safely and independently navigate the school environment
- Students who may have difficulty maintaining a sitting posture due to low muscle tone or muscle weakness that directly affects their education
In general, physical concerns that do not affect the curriculum often do not qualify for school-based PT. This includes examples like a student who walks on tiptoes but can still safely navigate the school environment, or a student who experiences motor delays that don’t impact participation in the academic curriculum or physical education curriculum.
How to Add a School-Based Physical Therapist to Your Related Services Team
When adding a physical therapist (PT) to your special education program, there are a few requirements that you should look for. In general, any PT that you add to your school’s related services team should:
- Have a Doctor of Physical Therapy or Doctor of Physiotherapy (DPT) degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
- Have passed the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)
You should also ensure that they have experience providing physical therapy in a school setting. At PTS, we make it easy to bring a school-based PT on board by ensuring that the therapists we place with schools and early intervention programs are highly trained and qualified clinicians.
Add a Physical Therapist to Your Team With Pediatric Therapeutic Services
If you need to add a physical therapist to your related services team, then Pediatric Therapeutic Services is here to help. We offer an exclusive focus on school performance, as well as continued support long after we place a physical therapist with your program.
Reach out today to find out how we can support your students and your special education program as a whole!