Physical and Occupational Therapies are Related services for Special Education

Luz Adriana

March 24, 2016


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Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. Albert Einstein


One of the questions I have been asked most often is to explain how therapies work at school. I like to remind parents that when our children are evaluated and found eligible to receive Special Education services, they are also entitled to receive related services. I know more words that are confusing. From the IDEA regulations (Part 300 Sec. 300.34 ) we get the following definition:

Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. Related services also include school health services and school nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.


When we look at the definition we see  that this list is pretty extensive but not exhaustive, which means that if the team thinks that there is a service that can help a student benefit from special education, they may add it to the IEP.

Another question I get from parents is how much do these services cost. Related services are free or at no cost to the parents. They are part of the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) all children with disabilities in the US are guaranteed by IDEA. However, I want to take a moment here to clarify that there are some fees that all students will have to pay for. Say for example the student participates in choir, band, labs or any other class that requires a fee;  If the general education student has to pay a fee to participate in said class, so must the student receiving special education services if they are part of that class. The same goes for field trips, if all the students in the class have to pay a fee to participate, and a student receiving special education services also attends, then he or she will also pay a fee. Now, if the students are going to be riding a school bus and there is no charge for the students to ride the bus, the student receiving special education services may not be charged to ride the bus. Additionally, the school may not say that the student cannot participate because there is no transportation, no aid (if the student requires an aid in school) available for him or her. If this activity is an educational activity for all the students in the classroom, then the school must make this activity available to ALL the students in the class.


When talking about Occupational, Physical and Speech therapies we need to look at these therapies in the framework of education or educational model. The services are intended to support the student’s access to their educational environment and functional participation within their school environment.  Once again these therapies are required by federal and state laws.  Students may have motor concerns that qualify them for medical-based services, but if the concern is not interfering significantly with their ability to learn and access their educational programming they may not receive motor services at school.


When we look at the medical-based services or therapies, these are often delivered in a hospital, out-patient clinic, private therapy clinic, or in your home.  Services are initiated by a referral from a physician and are based on finding the underlying deficit or delay and/or diagnosis.  Their goal is to improve function across all environments the child interacts within. This area of practice is much broader and can impact the child as a whole instead of only focusing just the exact skills they need to do well in school, but rather the skills they will need to do well in life.

Remember, you are part of the IEP team and if you don’t understand what services you child is entitled to, ask. If you are not sure why and what the team is proposing, ask. If you have information from your child’s doctors, share them with the school, this may give the team some insight into your child’s disability.

Additional Resources on Related Services

Luz Adriana

My name is Luz Adriana Martinez and for the past 27 years I have been working in the field of advocacy for children with disabilities. I hold an MBA from the University of Phoenix and a BA from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico. I'm married to a great guy, Tito, an Army Veteran of 22 years, who supports all the crazy things I do. Being an Army wife also prepared us to be always on the move and without daddy for long periods of time. This also gave me the opportunity work and volunteer with organizations whose mission was to assist other military families. This blog results from my desire to give back to the many families that have given me and mine so much. I have had the fortune to be able to travel the world assisting military families and now that that stage of my life is over, I want to continue to share what I have learned in the hopes that I can still provide some information and resources to families who need it.

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Thanks for the comment. Anything else we should be talking about?