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Occupational and Physical Therapy

The Role of the School-Based Occupational and Physical Therapist

School divisions are mandated to provide the related services of occupational and physical therapy when a student requires them to benefit from their special education program. The student's school-based therapy needs should directly relate to and support his or her academic program. It is the role of the Occupational Therapist (OT) or Physical Therapist (PT) to work closely with all members of the school team to identify and create solutions and/or adaptations that assist students to participate as fully as possible in their school setting. OTs and PTs provide a unique perspective of a student based on their specialized knowledge in child development, motor learning and task performance. OTs and PTs are trained to provide many types of developmental and rehabilitative services as well as conduct assessments related to a student's functional skills in the educational environment.

Occupational Therapy

Alexandria City Public Schools provide occupational therapy when a child with a disability requires this related service to assist the child to benefit from special education. OTs use purposeful activity to facilitate a child's active participation in self-maintenance; academic and vocational pursuits; and play or leisure activities that occur in school environments. Using direct and indirect services, as well as assistive technology and environmental modifications, school occupational therapists collaborate with parents, teachers and other educational staff members to enhance the implementation a child's individualized education program (IEP). Occupational therapists may work with students to address:

  • self-help skills or activities of daily living skills (e.g., clothing management, eating in the cafeteria, personal hygiene)
  • fine motor skills (e.g., functional written communication, coloring, cutting, and handling classroom materials
  • specific skills needed for pre-vocational and vocational tasks
  • social participation
  • play and leisure skills
  • sensory processing (e.g. touch, auditory, movement, smell, as related to learning and emotional/activity regulation)

Physical Therapy

Alexandria City Public Schools provide physical therapy when a child with a disability requires this related service to assist the child to benefit from their special education program. In the educational setting, physical therapy addresses the ability to move parts of the body, to assume and maintain postures, and organize movement into functional gross motor skills. Using direct and indirect services, as well as specialized equipment and environmental modifications when needed, school physical therapists collaborate with parents, teachers and other educational staff to enhance the implementation a child's individualized education program. In relation to special education, physical therapists are primarily concerned with developing and enhancing the physical potential of students with disabilities, so that they can achieve maximum independence and function in all their educational activities.

Physical therapists may work with students to address:

  • strength and endurance for functional mobility (e.g., climbing stairs, opening doors, carrying materials, accessing the playground, participating in field trips)
  • posture (e.g., sitting, standing, ambulating)
  • gait (e.g., walking independently or with mobility aids)
  • function, fit, and proper use of mobility aids and devices (e.g, walkers, wheelchairs, standers, canes)
  • range of motion (e.g., Stretching exercises to improve muscle flexibility)
  • balance and coordination (e.g., activities to decrease falls and injuries)
  • play/recreational skills (e.g., adapt activities for sports, PE)

Determination of Services

Occupational and physical therapy services are provided only when a student is unable to benefit from special education without these services. Goals may be academic in nature while other goals will focus on functional performance in the school environment. The OT/PT must be an active participant in the decision making process when determining whether or not a student may qualify for the related service of occupational or physical therapy.

The core roles and responsibilities of school-based occupational and physical therapy include:

  • Training and consultation regarding motor development, functional skill acquisition, modifications and adaptations of environment, materials and tasks
  • Identification of students who may be in need of assessment to determine possible eligibility for special education or related services through pre-referral interventions and screening
  • Assessment/evaluation of students suspected of having a motor, sensory, functional impairment
  • Eligibility determination, including addressing the relationship between the students motor or functional impairment and any adverse effect on the ability to participate in the general curriculum, including academic, social-emotional, or vocational areas
  • IEP development
  • Caseload management, including selecting, planning, and coordinating appropriate service delivery and scheduling options
  • Intervention to facilitate the achievement of IEP goals and objectives
  • Documentation and accountability, including data collection, progress reports and adherence to federal, state, and local requirements.

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