What We Do

The Role of Occupational and Physical Therapy

The role of school-based occupational and physical therapy includes:

  1. Directly supporting a student’s access to educational activities in the school environment.
  2. Collaborating with educational staff to improve a student’s participation and performance in curriculum-based activities.
  3. Educating teachers, family members, and others about the impacts of disability on educational performance, the potential benefits of adaptations or accommodations, and how to request support from related service providers.

Occupational and Physical Therapy Best Practices

As related services, occupational and physical therapy provide student specific interventions, modify the environment, procure appropriate equipment or tools, educate student and staff in activity follow through and continuously monitor the effectiveness of the recommended educationally relevant supports. As the student’s functional skills improve, the role of the occupational and/or physical therapist can be reduced as the instructional staff progressively meets the needs of the student.

Overview of Programs

A container with the label Calm Down Kit featuring various items and a paper displaying the text How I'm Feeling

Occupational Therapy

The overall goal of occupational therapy in schools is to work with children in the school environment to help them develop functional skills for everyday life in the areas of self-care, life skills, schoolwork, and play.

Teacher helping a student with Physical Therapy while reading a book

Physical Therapy

The physical therapist works to ensure safe and accessible environments for staff and students. Therapists help develop and provide individually designed and developmentally appropriate motor programs for the students.

Understanding Occupational and Physical Therapy in Polk County Public Schools

Often parents and teachers have questions regarding occupational and physical therapy provided in public schools. Outpatient or private therapy services differ substantially from school-based therapy services. School-based services are not designed or mandated to replace private therapy services.

In the public school, a student’s need for occupational or physical therapy is not defined by his/her deficits, but instead, by the extent of his/her engagement in meaningful activities determined by the Individual Education Plan (IEP).

Both the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Guide to Practices encourage the use of the International Classification Framework (ICF). ICF is an enablement model, which focuses on developing strategies and interventions designed to help the students achieve functional outcomes.

As described by AOTA and APTA, best practice in school-based evaluation supports an approach which compares the relationship between the student’s current performance and requirements of the curriculum.

Occupational and physical therapy assessments in the public schools may include observations in the natural school environment, such as the classroom, playground, cafeteria, and bus.

The therapist works with the educational team to determine what specific performance, roles and/or routines the student is having difficulty performing. They synthesize data from many members of the school team and family to determine what strategies or services are needed to assist the student to achieve functional outcomes in the general education curriculum or an alternative specialized curriculum determined by the IEP team.

Once the IEP team determines the present levels of the student’s performance and IEP goals and objectives are developed the team decides whether occupational or physical therapy services are needed for the student to be able to access, participate, and progress in the educational setting.

We Put Students First

Successful occupational and physical therapy interventions require collaboration, consultation, and teamwork with all other members of the student’s team.

Therapy services are primarily provided in a natural setting during daily routines and activities. Interventions provided by the occupational and physical therapist require the use of methodologies that align with curriculum content and classroom accessible materials so that the student has multiple opportunities to work on the skills and generalize the information in the learning environment.

Young female student sitting in a wheelchair at a table with other students while working with a teacher

Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and IDEA 2004

School based therapies are intended to promote access to the educational environment and curriculum-based activities.

School based occupational and physical therapy are related services to special education. Within public schools, occupational and physical therapy are governed by federal and state special education law, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004.

A student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is eligible to receive a related service, such as occupational or physical therapy, if that student requires the related service to benefit from his/her exceptional education programming, (34 CFR 300.34). Deciding whether a student may need occupational or physical therapy to benefit from exceptional education programming requires the consideration of multiple factors. The needs of the student, the physical environment of the school, the academic requirements and other academic supports currently in place are a few of the factors that determine whether a student requires a related service in order to benefit from exceptional education.

The Occupational and Physical Therapy Team

Our team of dedicated and caring therapists seek diligently to understand the needs of the student. They work with the student, teachers, and parents to implement the plan through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process.

The best practices of school-based occupational and physical therapists result in students learning with their peers within their classroom environment. The ultimate goal is meaningful participation in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Occupational and physical therapy services will vary depending upon a student’s educational need. IDEA 2004 requires occupational therapy and physical therapy practices support students so that they can benefit from their special education programming.

Next Steps

If you feel your child requires occupational or physical therapy services, please reach out to your child’s teacher, LEA, or school counselor. These individuals can begin the process to evaluate this potential need.

Contact Us

If you have any questions or concerns related to the delivery of occupational or physical therapy, please feel free to email Dr. Kenny Hodges, ESE Senior Manager at kenny.hodges@polk-fl.net.