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Member Spotlight - What's a Physical Therapist

October is National Physical Therapy month and it is a great time to introduce the district Physical Therapists. Currently, there are 3.5 physical therapist positions in our district which are held by Debbie Graham, PT, Tracey Thompson, PT, MS, Peggy Mulderig, PT, MS, and Kelly Huber, PT, MS, C/NDT. When traveling throughout the district, we have worked with and interacted with many of you on various occasions, depending on the needs of the student. We provide a very important and integral piece to the educational success of the students that we service.

The Physical Therapy profession as a whole has moved from a Bachelor of Science to a Master’s level in the early 1990s, and has now shifted toward a Doctoral level degree curriculum. Currently, 206 of 213 accredited physical therapy programs in the US are accredited at the doctoral level offering the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree (DPT). To practice as a Physical Therapist in New York State, one must hold a degree from a nationally accredited Physical Therapy program and acquire a Physical Therapy license by passing the New York state board exam. The Physical Therapist must maintain a license and registration through NYSED (New York State Education Department). Registration is renewed every 3 years and requires 36 hours of NYS and APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) continuing education courses.

Physical Therapy often abbreviated PT, is traditionally considered a health care profession, however it is a pediatric specialty and an educational support service within the school setting, and is quite different from therapy provided in a clinic or hospital. PT is one of the related services under Part B of IDEA. This section of IDEA mandates the education of children ages 3-21 who have a disability that interferes with their educational performance and includes support services that enhances their ability to benefit from their educational program. Everything the Physical Therapist does with the students in the school setting must be educationally relevant. Physical Therapists examine and intervene to improve students’ functional abilities in school classrooms, hallways and other areas that may be part of their educational program.

Qualifying for PT is determined at a district CSE (Committee on Special Education) meeting which includes an administrator, the student’s teachers (regular and special education), as well as other related services providers and the student’s parent/s. Typically, standardized PT testing will be administered if a student exhibits a physical delay or concern throughout the school day There are a wide range of concerns that may arise including (but not limited to) poor posture, fatigue, tripping or clumsiness within the classroom/ school setting, inability to travel with the class or independently throughout the school setting, overall decreased motor skills/motor planning with inability to follow multi-step directions, or decreased ability to participate physically on a level with peers.

Physical Therapy practitioners provide essential services to a student, including direct treatments per their IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Physical Therapists help students acquire functional abilities that are necessary to access educational materials, adapt to their educational environment, move about the school environment, and facilitate the use of adaptive equipment when needed. A Physical Therapy session will look different for each student, as it is developed on an individual basis according to what each student requires for optimal learning throughout the school day. For example, a child may need to improve core strength for better posture and to make eye contact with the teacher in the classroom. This may require a strengthening program during direct PT as well as a home program provided to the student/ parents by the Physical Therapist.

Physical Therapists work closely with teachers to promote the highest level of function possible for students pursuing educational goals. We provide consultative services to teachers and support staff regarding posture and positioning, possible environmental adaptions, safety within the school setting/playground/field trips, evacuations/fire drills, instruction in use of adaptive equipment, and anytime other physical or safety concerns arise.

Physical Therapists also provide direct training to teachers and other support staff including transfer/ lift training including education on personal body awareness, utilizing proper body mechanics, and personal safety while lifting.

School-based PT promotes students’ ability to participate in the educational setting within the least restrictive environment. Physical Therapists focus on removing physical barriers from students’ ability to learn, help students develop skills to increase their independence in the school environment, and educate school personnel about the different considerations required for students with disabilities.

As Physical Therapists in the school setting, we enjoy working with each student we service and strive to work toward helping each student achieve their optimal functional ability needed for educational success.

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