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Physical Therapy

Who are School Physical Therapists?
School-based physical therapists (PT) are part of a team of related service providers who promote participation by supporting a student’s ability to physically access their educational environment. As specialists in movement, they assist a student’s physical participation in a variety of settings throughout the school day. The primary role of the school PT is to help students benefit from their educational program within the educational environment, and to help address any movement or environmental barriers that prevent the student from fully accessing their school day.

What Training do School Physical Therapists Receive?
School-based physical therapists have received a master’s or doctorate degree from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education-accredited physical therapist education program, and have passed a licensure exam. Advanced training to become a physical therapist includes coursework as well as clinical experiences in various settings. 

What Do School Physical Therapists Do?
School-based physical therapists provide services to and on behalf of students to address educational needs as part of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Physical therapists work collaboratively with a student’s IEP team and participate in gross motor screening, evaluation/reevaluation, program planning, goal development, and transition planning. They provide intervention and collect data to monitor progress. In response to the IEP, physical therapists design a plan of care (or intervention plan) and implement physical therapy interventions—including teaching, training, support of family and education personnel, and documentation of progress—to help the student achieve their IEP goal(s). Physical therapy providers deliver services to support students in accessing and participating with peers in their educational environments.

What is the Difference Between School-based and Private Physical Therapy?
Private physical therapy, or physical therapy delivered in an outpatient clinic, is medically based and involves the evaluation of a health condition and the relationship of that condition to movement.  A physical therapist in a private setting evaluates a child’s strength, flexibility, coordination, endurance, balance, and safety with functional movement, and then develops and implements a plan of care to reduce the impact of the health condition on the child’s quality of life. The aim of private physical therapy is to improve the child’s safety and movement in all aspects of their life, including home and recreational activities.

The role of the school-based physical therapist is distinct from that of the private physical therapist. School-based physical therapists work as part of the IEP Team by supporting a student’s ability to access their educational environment. Whereas a physical therapist in a private setting will evaluate the child’s gross motor abilities and provide therapy to improve the child’s safety and mobility in all aspects of their life, a school-based physical therapist evaluates the student’s gross motor abilities and provides therapy to ensure that a student can safely and fully access their educational environment. School-based physical therapy is not intended to meet all of a student’s therapy needs or maximize gross motor skill level in all cases, but rather to develop the foundations necessary for a child to meaningfully participate in their school day alongside their peers. Often a child will benefit from school based and private physical therapy simultaneously. Students who work with a physical therapist at school demonstrate the need for assistance in one or more of the following educationally-relevant areas: accessibility (negotiating playground equipment or accessing the school campus), mobility (walking skills, use of assistive equipment, wheelchair training), or accommodations (staff training, student positioning, or environmental modifications).