The Difference Between Outpatient Therapy and School Therapy
By Jeanette Mangano, DPT
Kids Place West Pediatric Physical Therapist

As children are preparing for the start of a new school year, parents often ask about the difference between school-based therapy and Kids Place, an outpatient therapy clinic.  The answer can be somewhat confusing.

In the simplest of terms, school-based therapists are considered a “related service.”  Their job is to observe and assess a child to determine their needs in order to best access their education.  Therapists may use direct treatment and pull the child out of the classroom or push inside the classroom by providing equipment for the student to access.  Or a therapist may consult with an educator in the classroom to better accommodate the student.  Goals in school are specifically related education.

In contrast, Kids Place provides outpatient therapy using a medical model.  Our therapists help children access and participate in activities in the home, community, and any other environment a child may find themselves.  Goals are functional and based around the activities and environments specific to the child, not necessarily tied to their education.

For example, a school physical therapist may work on climbing or descending stairs, walking or wheeling through the halls and busy environments, or having appropriate equipment for the classroom.  Schools will assist on adapting activities for children to participate in their physical education program.  At Kids Place, our therapists will help with skills not necessary for school, like bicycle riding, higher level coordination tasks, or other medical interventions.  An occupational therapist in the school may assist in attention to tasks, handwriting, and appropriate classroom behavior.  An occupational therapist in an outpatient setting will treat these skills, as well, in addition to activities at home and in the community – like social relationships, using utensils, and self-care.

Children are able to receive school and outpatient therapy services in conjunction with each other.  When this occurs, it is most helpful if both therapists communicate about the child’s therapy sessions.  Children may also receive therapy in only one setting – school or outpatient.  A child may qualify for services in an outpatient setting, but not in school because their skills and compensations do not impact their ability to learn.

In both settings, a child will be discharged when their goals are achieved or they plateau with progress. However, services may resume in either setting as a child reaches a transitional year in school or if the child begins to have more difficulty with tasks in their home or community.  If you feel your child needs a therapy evaluation, please consult with your pediatrician or the school.