School-Based Physical Therapy Role

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School-Based Physical Therapy Role

By: Dr. Abe Kopolovich, DPT, MBA

Physical therapists often start their career working in a hospital or nursing home. Another career option is working as a school-based physical therapist with children. If you have not worked as a school-based physical therapist, you might not be sure what to expect. Separating the misconceptions from facts can help you decide if school-based therapy is right for you.

What Do Physical Therapists Do In Schools?

All settings have their challenges and rewards. School-based therapists are often part of the team that develops an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students. Physical therapists developed treatment plans and implement many of the same therapy strategies they use in other settings. The main goal of physical therapists in schools is to help students achieve educational benefits within their educational environment. The long term effects of establishing this type of foundation during a students’ early years are beneficial. By allowing them to thrive within their educational environment, students are able to learn and socialize at the same pace as their peers. When physical therapists assist with a students’ ability to have physical access to their education, they are establishing positive, long-lasting benefits.

Which Members Do School-Based Physical Therapists Work With On An IEP Team?

School-based therapists are not on their own when it comes to developing a student’s IEP, Individualized Education Program. Physical therapists in a school often work in a collaborative environment with occupational and speech therapists, as well as teachers and aides. In addition, the student’s parents will also be included in the IEP conversations. They are crucial members to the team as they will know their child’s strengths, needs and interests more than anyone else. This insight will help to create a specific, individualized plan of action for the student. Teachers display a vital role on the IEP team, as they are able to explain what the curriculum expectations are for that student’s grade level. This can lead into a discussion so that a physical therapist can adjust their methods to coincide with the child’s curriculum. Other goals can be established accordingly as well as creating a plan for how the child can participate in classroom activities and extracurricular activities with their classmates. There are other members who can be involved in these meetings such as the child’s special education teacher, a school system representative and an individual who is able to interpret evaluation results. 

What Is A Typical Day Of A Physical Therapist Working At Schools?

Physical therapists in a school setting work with children with all types of challenges, not just congenital birth defects. Therapists often work with students with conditions, such as spinal bifida, amputations, and neurological disorders. Each day is unique as a school-based physical therapist. Students require specific IEPs, which presents physical therapists with the unique challenge of creating a specific plan that works for each specific student. Schools provide an ever-changing work environment for PTs. They provide the challenge to apply creative problem solving skills as well as critical thinking abilities in order to find solutions. For these reasons, schools are often highly sought-after workplace options for physical therapists.

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