What are some of the most common related services used in schools?

Page 7: Physical Therapy Services

Physical TherapyPhysical therapy as a related service is designed to help students with disabilities to improve their functional skills in a variety of school settings, including the classroom, gym, and playground. Students who might benefit from school-based physical therapy services may have disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, or developmental delay that affect their movement or posture. Students who might benefit from PT services may experience difficulty:

  • Girl using a walkerWalking or balancing
  • Maintaining a good seated position at their desks
  • Carrying materials (e.g., books, lunch tray)
  • Opening a locker
  • Maintaining energy for full participation in activities
  • Navigating the school environment (e.g., using canes, a walker, or a wheelchair)
  • Managing the playground or gym equipment
  • Transferring (e.g., from a walker to a toilet, from a desk seat to a standing position)
  • Getting from one place to another during allotted transition times
  • Participating in routine physical education activities
Physical Therapists

Qualified Providers:

Physical therapists (PT) or physical therapist assistants (PTA) are required to hold both national and state licenses. PTs must have completed an accredited graduate degree program. PTAs must have graduated with an associate’s degree from an accredited PTA program and must work under the supervision of a PT.

Roles: Physical therapists work with students who have problems with mobility or gross motor skills (e.g., running, jumping, galloping, hopping, and ball skills) that affect their success in classroom or school-related activities. The PT’s or PTA’s primary role is to ensure that students with disabilities can physically access their educational and school-related settings and participate in the associated activities.


  • Work with teacher to develop classroom seating options, and to promote posture, balance, and accessibility
  • Suggest ideas to families for creating appropriate physical environments for homework


  • Develop evacuation plans (e.g., fire, crisis) for students with physical disabilities
  • Develop health and wellness programs for students with and without disabilities
  • Train staff in methods to safely lift, transfer, handle, and position these students
  • Teach staff the purpose and functional use of any of a student’s specialized equipment (e.g., wheelchairs, walkers, orthoses)

Extra-curricular Activities

  • Collaborate with teachers who conduct after-school activities (e.g., band, clubs) so that students’ needs are met across all environments
  • Work with students in job training sites and community settings to promote effective access to those environments
  • Help students who are in the transition process to prepare for their physical needs in the next environment (e.g., high school, college, career)

National Professional Organization: American Physical Therapy Association ( http://www.apta.org) and its section on Pediatrics ( http://www.PediatricAPTA.org)

Physical Therapy in Action: A Real Life Story

Nore is a second-grade student in a general education classroom who has cerebral palsy. His IEP goals are:

  • Maintaining his balance in the school environment
  • Navigating the school environment independently

Watch the videos below to see how Donna Schlappi, Nore’s PT, works with him to achieve these goals.

In the first video, she first helps Nore practice his walking balance by carrying a tray with objects on it. In this way, she hopes to help Nore learn to carry a tray with food in the lunchroom (time: 2:47).

View Transcript

In the next video, watch as Nore works on his balance during a regular P.E. class with the ongoing support and encouragement of his PT (time: 0:23).

View Transcript
the PT’s Corner
Marcia K. Kaminker, PT, DPT, MS, PCS
Physical Therapist
Department of Student Services
South Brunswick School District
South Brunswick, NJ
Listen as Marcia Kaminker describes physical therapy in the school environment:

Determining the need for services
(time: 1:23)
Working in the natural environment
(time: 1:19)
Working on a team
(time: 0:43)

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