If my child is receiving medically based physical therapy, why don’t they get physical therapy at school?
This is a question we are asked all the time. While some children may have both an educational and a medical need for physical therapy the answer comes down to the purpose of services.
When a physical therapist recommends services medically this is based on the child’s health and rehabilitating a prior level of function or a need for therapy in order to achieve something that will improve their health and decrease their need to access other medical services.
For a physical therapist to recommend services at school, the therapist has to document that the child needs to do something at school to be safe or access their school curriculum that require the services of a skilled therapist to achieve. When a child is on an individual education plan (IEP) this is driven by needing the services of a skilled therapist to meet the goals identified for them to indicate adequate educational progress. When a child is on a 504 plan, this means that in order to progress with their current group of peers, they require the support of a skilled therapist to meet educational standards.
This means that once a child is safely able to move around their classroom, the campus, and use the playground on site safely and as independently as they will able to given other factors like age, cognition, or behavior they frequently are found to not need educationally related physical therapy as they are successful in that environment. While this does not mean they’ve met their maximum motor abilities or that in a different model of service delivery, like the medical model, they would not have a need for the services of a physical therapist, it does mean that there mobility skills are no longer limiting their education.
We frequently try to explain it in the simplest ways, physical therapy in the educational environment is to support the student safely accessing their education. In school, gross motor development generally falls under physical education.
This is just to help with a basic understanding of the difference in the models. It would be easy to go further in depth but we wanted to help answer a question we get a lot of times.