EDUCATIONAL vs. MEDICAL MODEL
What is the difference between the school-based model of OT and PT intervention and the clinical or medical model?
School-based therapy provided under an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) must relate specific educational outcomes to the interventions recommended by the therapists. Therapy provided under the medical model tends to focus on discipline-specific goals that may not have a direct relationship to educational performance. For example, a clinically based physical therapist (PT) may have lower extremity strengthening as the ultimate goal for a child who exhibits weakness. Improving muscle strength does not have a direct link to educational performance.
Although PTs and occupational therapists (OTs) who work in educational environments remain concerned about the underlying components of a child's motor disability, they must (under the law) be able to describe how these limitations affect the child within the context of the school environment.
More specifically, therapists must articulate how a limitation in fine or gross motor function inhibits a child's ability to benefit from special education. This is the principle of determining educational relevance. If the OT or PT believes that a child's need for therapy extends beyond the child's educational goals, the therapist has a professional obligation to inform the parents or legal care providers so that medically (or clinically) based therapy can be provided through another funding source.
OTs and PTs must extend the application of particular therapeutic techniques [i.e., neurodevelopment therapy (NDT) or the sensory integration (SI) model] beyond the traditional medical model approach and adapt them to meet the needs of the child in the context of the school environment. The focus of intervention is directed away from achieving isolated motor skills that are practiced in one-on-one therapy away from the classroom, and directed toward the achievement of functional tasks required to participate and benefit from special education placement (Dunn, Brown, & Duigan, 1994). For example, an OT may recommend specific techniques for improving hand dexterity with the educational outcome being improved handwriting legibility. In the same vein, a physical therapist may recommend specific use of a piece of adaptive equipment that would allow more independent mobility within the school environment. Without these stated educational outcomes, the intervention would be more medically based.
Providing educationally relevant intervention extends beyond academic performance to the larger school environment. School-based therapists should recognize that educational performance for young children also includes self-help skills, mobility in the classroom and on the playground and physical education.
How do IEP teams make decisions about when and how to provide OT or PT?
In making a decision to provide either occupational or physical therapy within the school environment, IEP teams must ask the following questions:
First and foremost, what does the child need to learn?
Which strategies facilitate this learning?
Does the child require the expertise of an OT or PT to achieve the educational outcome through the implementation of these strategies?
How should intervention be provided (i.e., direct or consultative model)?
(Hanks & Place, 1996.)
Many times, physicians and other service providers who have worked with the child make specific recommendations for therapy. These recommendations need to be considered, but decisions must be made in the context of the child's educational needs. Therefore, the IEP may not always reflect the amount of services recommended if some of these are not related to the child's educational needs.
Using information available in the diagnostic summary, IEP teams need to decide what services and level of services are needed. Many routine classroom activities directed by teachers and paraprofessionals help develop a young child's fine and gross motor skills (cutting with scissors, playing games with balls or bean bags, drawing, etc.). Sometimes these routine activities, without the aid of an OT or PT, may be sufficient to meet the child's needs. In some cases, the team may determine that an OT or PT may need to provide consultation so that a teacher or paraprofessional can more effectively implement strategies to improve the child's motor skills that relate to the educational needs. Sometimes Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) or Physical Therapy Assistants (PTAs) working under the supervision of an OT or PT may be able to address the individual child's IEP needs.
In other cases, the team may determine that a child's needs are such that he/she really needs direct therapy from an OT or a PT in order to implement the IEP goals and objectives because of the level of expertise required. If direct OT or PT is shown as the service on the IEP, it needs to be provided by that professional. Also, the code of ethics for each of these professions needs to be followed in terms of roles and levels of supervision. In any case, it is very important that the IEP clearly indicates how services will be provided, (consultation, group, individual) so that the parents and all members of the team know who will be doing what. This can be summarized in a narrative fashion or by specifically listing these types of related services.
If the therapist is providing services in a consultative model, does that mean the child will receive less intervention from the PT or OT?
One of the myths of consultation is that it will automatically decrease the level of services that the child is receiving. It will decrease the amount of time that the therapist pulls the child away from the natural setting of the classroom, but it may, in fact, increase the opportunities for the child to practice teacher/therapist-designed strategies throughout the school day. The consultation model, if applied correctly, asks that teachers and therapists truly collaborate to develop more effective functional strategies that all the staff facilitates during the course of a child's day.
Do all physical and occupational therapists have training in school- based practice as a part of their professional education?
No. School administrators, teachers and other learning specialists should be aware that just because someone is an OT or PT does not automatically mean that they have been trained to be practitioners in educational settings. When schools are contracting or hiring these specialists, they may look to the following list of important skills for therapists to function more competently in an educational environment:
- Knowledge of disabling conditions of children;
- Knowledge of federal and state regulations, due process and local policies and procedures pertaining to special education and Section 504;
- Ability to evaluate the functional performance of students within school environments;
- Ability to participate in group decision-making and plan appropriate intervention;
- Ability to integrate related services within IEP/IFSP objectives;
- Knowledge of major theories, intervention strategies and research relating to educational implication for schools;
- Ability to implement and modify activities for therapeutic intervention within the school setting;
- Ability to document progress and intervention results and to relate this information to the child's goals and objectives;
- Ability to interpret the role of the therapeutic intervention within the educational setting to educational personnel, administrators, parents, students and the community.
(Virginia Department of Education, 1991.)
In some areas of the state there is a shortage of OTs and PTs. Nevertheless, it is important for school administrators to communicate these needs to the agencies or individuals who propose to contract with or seek employment with them. Many therapists who lack school-based experience are willing to develop new skills to help provide appropriate school-based services.
Dunn, W., Brown, C., & Duigan, A. (1994). The ecology of human performance: A framework for considering the effect of context. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 48(7).
Hanks, B., & Place, P. (1996). The consulting therapist: A guide for occupational and physical therapists in schools. San Antonio, TX: Therapy Skill Builders.
Virginia Department of Education. (1991). Handbook for Physical and occupational therapists working in school settings.
The major content of this article was provided by Kim Nevins, Registered Physical Therapist, and Columbia Public Schools.