School-based physical therapists (PTs) are part of the educational team of related service providers who assists a student in his/her ability to access the school environment. A school-based PT assists a student in participating in a variety of activities across the school setting. The main role of the PT is to help students benefit from their specially designed individual instruction, or IEP/504, in the school environment.
While school-based PTs focus on accessing the school environment, medical-based PTs focus on the quality of motor skills and functional ability. The medical model of PT services is focused on the student’s motor deficits and clinical weaknesses. Medically-based PT services are typically provided in a hospital or clinic setting. School-based PTs often work in collaboration with a student’s medically-based PT to discuss a student’s progress and responses to various treatment techniques.
School-based physical therapy is provided only when it is related to a student’s needs in an educational setting. School-based therapy interventions include assisting a student with navigating the school environment, participation in all classroom activities, participation in all special classes, and accessing stairs, restrooms, and the cafeteria. This also includes monitoring and modifying equipment utilized to increase safety and independence across the school environment. School-based therapy is not designed to address specific therapeutic needs or specific motor milestones of a student, but to ensure that a student can access all areas of the school environment with peers.
School-based physical therapy services in the school setting can be direct or indirect services. With direct intervention, the physical therapist works with a student on a regular basis with a student in the environment of need. With indirect intervention, the physical therapist collaborates with staff members, including other therapists, teachers, and assistants, to suggest ideas and strategies to increase a student’s participation and independence in the school environment. In order to provide physical therapy services, a physical prescription may be requested.