Occupational Therapists (OT) and Physical Therapists (PT) work closely with all members of the special education team to ensure eligible students’ participation in the Arlington Public Schools. OTs and PTs provide a unique perspective based on their specialized knowledge in child development, motor learning and task performance. They work with students with a wide range of disabilities and provide services in a variety of locations within the school. Therapists provide their specialized skills and knowledge when it is required for students with disabilities to access the school environment and curriculum.
1. The Role of School Based Occupational and Physical Therapists
Occupational and/or Physical Therapy services are provided under the umbrella of IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Act) through the implementation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP); or, under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act through the implementation of a 504 plan.Occupational and physical therapy services must directly relate to the student’s participation in school and be required for the student to access his or her curriculum. There is a continuum of service delivery ranging from consultation with staff to pull-out intervention with a student or small group of students. The model for service delivery is determined by the IEP team given active input from the occupational or physical therapist.Efforts are made to deliver services in the least restrictive environment.Occupational and Physical therapists may provide information to general education teachers to address the needs of their students.
2. Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists (OT) and occupational therapy assistants (OTA) use purposeful and meaningful activities to enable students to participate in school. Using direct and indirect services, as well as assistive technology and environmental modifications, school OTs and OTAs collaborate with all members of the school team so students can access their IEP or 504 plan.Occupational therapists may work with students and their educational team to address the following skills as they relate to the student’s participation in school (in alphabetical order):
- fine motor skills;
- independent living skills;
- play and leisure participation;
- pre-vocational skills;
- self-help skills and activities of daily living;
- sensory processing and self-regulation needs;
- sensory, cognitive or motor needs that impact access or participation;
- social participation.
Additionally, the occupational therapist may:
- help identify long term goals appropriate for post-school outcomes;
- contribute to the planning and implementation of relevant instructional activities;
- and, engage in the training and education of students, team members and parents.
3. Physical Therapy
Physical Therapists (PT) and Physical Therapist Assistants (PTA) work collaboratively with the student’s IEP team and participate in screening, evaluation, program planning and intervention. Physical therapists provide professional expertise in the areas of:
- self-help skills,
- foundational gross motor skills,
- mobility (transfers, walking and equipment use),
- posture and positioning, and
- recreational skills for age-appropriate play.
Physical therapy services may be considered if the student:
- requires regular monitoring and modification of physical strategies or equipment to maintain school accessibility and participation;
- has neuromuscular, orthopedic or medical issues limiting his or her access to or participation in school routines and environments;
- has poor functional motor skills limiting his or her ability to navigate the education setting or participate in developmentally appropriate recreation activities;
- has impaired mobility skills limiting his or her ability to manage personal needs in the cafeteria, bathroom and locker room;
- is at risk for developing complications that may limit school access and/or participation due to a chronic condition.
4. Determination of Services
The primary purpose of Occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) services in the schools is to enable students with disabilities to access their special education program. Occupational therapy and Physical therapy are not stand alone services; students must be eligible for special education or a 504 plan to be considered for occupational or physical therapy. An assessment will be conducted by the therapist to determine the student’s strengths and needs.Eligibility for OT or PT services is determined by the IEP team with active input from the therapist. To receive services, the student must require OT or PT services to access his or her education program. If the student is found eligible for OT or PT, services will be provided as outlined on a student’s IEP or Section 504 plan. Goals supported by the OT or PT will be determined by the IEP team with active input from the therapist.
The core roles and responsibilities of school-based occupational and physical therapists include:
- Identifying and reducing barriers that limit student participation in school;
- Training and consulting with staff members regarding motor development, functional skill acquisition, modifications and adaptation of the environment, materials and tasks;
- Collaborating with teachers and other professionals to adapt environmental demands or improve a student’s participation in school activities;
- Partnering with students to help them identify their strengths, needs and priorities;
- Assessing and evaluating students suspected of having a motor, sensory, or functional impairment to help determine eligibility for services;
- Supporting a student’s acquisition of skills to enable him or her to participate in school;
- Collaborating with staff, students and family members to use adaptive tools and technology;
- Educating teachers and families on the impact of disability on educational performance, the possible benefits of adaptations or accommodations, and how to best use support from related service professionals;
- Participating in the development and implementation of an identified student’s IEP;
- Documenting services including data collection, progress reports and adherence to federal, state and local requirements.
5. Qualifications of School Physical And Occupational Therapists
Physical Therapists (PT) and Physical Therapist Assistants (PTA) must successfully complete a physical therapy or physical therapy assistant program that is accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) Commission on the Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).Occupational Therapists (OT) and Occupational Therapist Assistants (OTA) must successfully complete an occupational therapy or occupational therapy assistant program accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).Physical Therapists, Physical Therapists Assistants, Occupational Therapists, and Occupational Therapist Assistants are licensed by the Virginia Board of Medicine.