As physical therapists in support of the Colonial School District goal to improve the academic achievement of all students, we believe that the development of functional mobility and basic gross motor skills is a major foundation for overall learning. Based on this belief, students with disabilities have the need and right to:
1. move about their environment as independently as possible
2. participate in gross motor programs and activities with their peers
3. be positioned safely and comfortably for learning
4. maintain optimal health for successful participation in the educational program
5. become proficient in self care and daily living skills
Our mission is to provide the student with opportunities that promote each individual’s physical development, motor proficiency, and functional abilities as part of his or her overall learning process.
Physical therapy services are provided as a “related service” under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to assist students with disabilities to benefit from their special education program. Working collaboratively on a team with educators, parents, and other related service personnel, the physical therapist (PT) is responsible for providing educationally related therapeutic programming for students whose disabilities interfere with their educational program and accessing their school environment.
The emphasis of physical therapy is to promote the student’s physical development, motor proficiency, and functional motor abilities as part of the overall learning process. The PT’s primary concern is motor function and concentrates on the child’s ability to maintain his or her body in a position to facilitate learning and to move as independently as possible in the context of the school program and environment. With expertise in the gross motor area, the PT can assess individual student needs and provide specialized input in mobility and movement strategies, adaptive equipment, assistive devices, and gross motor development so that the student can be successful in the school program. The PT can also enhance the student’s program through consultation and training for staff members and parents regarding a student’s specific disability.
Physical therapy is a prescriptive process. The PT evaluates the child’s abilities in areas such as postural control, balance, muscle strength and control, physical development, orthopedic alignment, gross motor skills, mobility, positioning and seating, and use of assistive devices when necessary. With collaborative input from other staff members, these functional abilities are then analyzed as to how they impact the child’s ability to function in the school environment and participate in the specific educational program. Interpretation of the evaluation examines how the delay or impairment affects the student’s school program in terms of motor skill function, health and safety, need for individualized positioning and facilitation of movement, need for environmental modifications, equipment and adaptations, and a need for communication within the school and community environments.
Treatment may include facilitating gross motor development and motor skills, mobility and gait training, remediating motor deficits that impair function, managing orthopedic problems, using compensatory strategies to overcome motor impairments, adapting equipment or the environment for improved function, and preventing further impairment. Treatment can be direct, where there is one-to-one contact with the student or a group of students, or indirect, which involves consultation and monitoring. Many times, a continuum of services provides the best method of intervention for students with disabilities, where consultation is provided in addition to direct treatment where necessary.
Performance of carryover activities in the classroom and school environment is critical for students with disabilities to achieve their goals in motor areas. Physical therapy consultation with classroom staff is necessary for this to occur. Direct treatment by a PT can provide the student with specific strategies and improved motor mechanisms, but daily repeated, guided practice will assist the student to learn specific motor skills in specific environments. Embedding specific motor activities within the classroom or various learning situations greatly assists with carryover and improved student learning. Students with physical disabilities need movement throughout their school day in order to prevent further physical deterioration and to improve basic mobility skills.
Some examples of the PT consultative role may include: collaborating with staff regarding transfers in and out of equipment; providing recommendations for positioning students out of their wheelchair or in other classroom equipment; instructing staff and parents in use of adaptive equipment necessary to position and support the student for various learning activities; planning for and helping implement opportunities for independent and assisted mobility; instructing staff on appropriate ways to physically handle and assist students in mobility and transfers that makes it easier on the staff while encouraging greater participation and independence from the student. In a more general consultative role, the PT can assess accessibility issues and work with the staff to solve problems in this area. The PT can also provide specific information on the student’s disability and how it can impact on the educational environment. The PT can also be of assistance with transportation and fire evacuation issues.
The following fact sheet from the American Physical Therapy Association describes the role of the pediatric school physical therapist.