Role of Physical Therapists in Early ACCESS Ages birth-3

The primary role of the Early ACCESS physical therapist is to work with the family and caregivers to enhance their ability to care for their infant/toddler within the home and community and to develop the infant/toddler movement skills. To qualify for Early ACCESS physical therapy services:

  • An infant/toddler must have a 25%, or more delay, OR a known condition, based on informed clinical opinion that has a high probability of later developmental delay

Physical therapists provide services to promote gross (large) motor development and mobility skills. Services are provided at no cost to the family and are documented on an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Areas addressed Early ACCESS physical therapist include:

Functional movement skills

  • Crawling
  • Walking
  • Using a wheelchair


  • Independent sitting, standing
  • Safe transportation

Role of Physical Therapists in the Educational Model Ages 3-21

The emphasis of school-based physical therapy is to help students access the academic environment and participate in educationally related activities as part of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Physical therapists are responsible for evaluating and treating students with disabilities, maintaining daily progress and attendance records, writing progress reports, attending IEP meetings, and recommending adaptive equipment, environmental accommodations, or assistive technology. Physical therapy services are provided primarily through an integrated service model, meaning services are a combination of direct student-therapist contact with consultation and instruction to others involved in the student’s educational program. Physical therapy services include activities that address:


  • Functional mobility skills (independent and/or assisted)
  • Architectural accessibility
  • Utilizing appropriate assistive devices
  • Transfers
  • Positioning

Educational and Work Activities

  • Gross motor/visual motor
  • Positioning
  • Pre-vocational tasks
  • Play and leisure activities

In addition to these services provided to students on their caseloads, physical therapists work collaboratively with teachers and other school staff to serve the school community in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Screenings/observations in classroom or other school environment
  • Consultation with teachers to offer strategies and classroom recommendations for individual students or the whole class
  • Attending meetings that support student programming
  • Activities that support students in natural environments or general education curriculum
  • Staff in-service and professional development (i.e. in-service on lifting or transfers)
  • Provide assistance in environment adaptations, acquiring, or modifying equipment or devices
  • Linking parents to appropriate community-based resources

Physical therapy and/or physical therapy services are considered if there is a concern that:

  •     Significantly interferes with the student’s ability to benefit from his/her educational program.
  •     Appears to be primarily motor or sensori-motor based.
  •     Documented, previous attempts to alleviate problems have not been successful.
  •     Potential for change in the student’s performance through intervention appears likely (change unrelated to maturity).
  •     Expertise of a therapist is required.

In the educational setting, the physical therapist is NOT responsible for the total rehabilitation or habilitation of each student. Non-educationally related goals for a student may be the responsibility of other professionals such as outpatient hospital and/or private practice physical therapist. After the age of 3, physical therapy services must be provided in a school based setting.

Differences Between Pediatric Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists

Occupational vs. Physical Therapy

PT Services in Iowa 3 yrs to 21 yrs