North Shore Pediatric Therapy recently hosted our first IEP bootcamp, where our school advocate explained how to get the most out of your child’s IEP and school services. Similarly, children can receive physical therapy services at school. Here is a breakdown of how a child would qualify for physical therapy services in a school system and the differences between physical therapy services in a school and physical therapy services in a private setting.
How is Physical Therapy Included in School Services?
Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public education must be accessible to all children aged 3-21 years old[i]. Physical therapy is a related service used to help implement IDEA. School-based physical therapy must be aimed towards allowing the child to access his educational environment. Some of the things a school-based physical therapist might assess include travel from one area of the school to another, getting onto and off of the bus, safely navigating the bathroom and cafeteria, getting into and out of classroom chairs, and participation in all classes. They will assess independence, safety, and timeliness of the above areas in determining need for physical therapy services.
The Role of the IEP:
If parents, teachers, or students determine a need in the student accessing the school environment, an IEP referral is made. This begins the process for school-based services. A physical therapist employed by the school district or contracted through an outside agency will evaluate the child and determine eligibility. In Illinois, the physical therapist is required to obtain a prescription for physical therapy from the child’s physician prior to treatment. However, physical therapy services must be provided at no cost to the family when deemed necessary.
Clinic-Based vs. School-Based Physical Therapy:
Clinic-based physical therapy is aimed at improving quality of movement, return to function, and achieving gross motor milestones in an age-appropriate time frame. Many children who would benefit from physical therapy services, but don’t qualify for school-based services due to the restrictions, attend private clinics for physical therapy services. In these settings, a physical therapist determines need based on standardized assessments, functional assessments, strength and range of motion testing, and compares these scores to age-appropriate norms. Some things that may qualify a child for outpatient physical therapy but not school-based physical therapy include gait abnormalities (including toe-walking and in-toeing), developmental coordination disorder, decreased endurance and overall weakness, hypotonia, foot pain, sports injuries, burns, etc. In Illinois, the physical therapist is required to obtain a prescription for physical therapy from the child’s physician prior to treatment. Physical therapy services in an outpatient setting must be covered through insurance or private pay.
Dependent on your child’s needs, physical therapy services may be required in a school setting, in an outpatient setting, or both. If you have any concerns about your child’s gross motor development or access to services in their school district, please contact the professionals at NSPT.