The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that ensures that children with disabilities receive an appropriate public education, regardless of the nature or severity of their disability. Physical therapy is included as one of the related services in IDEA that is provided to students who have a physical disability, which affects their ability to access and participate in their education.
Physical therapists work with students with a variety of physical disabilities to access their school environment and benefit from their educational program. As a member of the Individualized Education Plan or “IEP” team, physical therapists provide services through screenings, evaluation, program planning, and intervention. One of the primary roles of the physical therapist on this team is helping to design and implement interventions to promote skill development throughout the school day at naturally occurring times. Because the physical therapist cannot be there with the student every day, an important part of their job is to train school staff who are working with the student to complete these activities on a day-to-day basis. When the physical therapist and school staff work in this type of partnership, they are able to maximize opportunities the student has to practice these skills at meaningful times in their school day, rather than in an isolated, pull-out type setting that may not carry over to the real-life setting in which the student would need to perform these skills.
Physical therapists also work with students with physical disabilities who are on an IEP without a goal related to motor skills or mobility by providing support to school personnel. This includes activities such as training staff in use of assistive devices, safe performance of transfers, proper positioning of the student to promote learning and prevent further medical complications, assisting in developing a transportation and emergency plans, and recommendations for architectural modifications to allow the student access to the school building. Physical therapists also work in conjunction with students and families by making recommendations for and helping them to obtain necessary adaptive equipment.
In the educational setting, the physical therapist is not responsible for the total rehabilitation of the student. Non-educationally related goals may be the responsibility of other professionals such as outpatient hospital or private practice physical therapist. Outpatient physical therapists and school-based physical therapists may work together to help the student attain their goals, but one is not meant to replace the other.
Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267) employs nine physical therapists who work with children throughout the 18-county area it serves. If you are a parent and believe your child could benefit from these services, please share your concerns with your child’s teacher. For parents of children birth through age five, please contact one of our three main offices:
- Cedar Falls: 1-800-542-8375 or 319-273-8250
- Clear Lake: 1-800-392-6640 or 641-357-6125
- Marshalltown: 1-800-735-1539 or 641-753-3564
(Submitted by Mandy Burns PT, DPT, ATC. Mandy is the discipline representative for physical therapists at Area Education Agency 267. Area Education Agency 267 serves over 60,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.)