Date of Award


Document Type

Scholarly Project

Degree Name

Master of Physical Therapy (MPT)


Physical Therapy

First Advisor

Henry C. Wessman


Physical Therapy; Eligibility Determination


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1991 (IDEA) includes physical therapy as one of the related services which may be necessary for a student with disabilities to benefit from special education. The determination of eligibility is therefore an important part of the provision of physical therapy in a public school setting. This study investigates how this determination is made across the United States and makes recommendations for physical therapists in the state of North Dakota.

This study consists of a literature review (including medical and educational journals) and two surveys. The requirements for special education and related services under IDEA, the educational relevance of physical therapy, the use of standardized tests and specific eligibility criteria, and related legal cases are discussed.

Surveys were sent to the special education agency of each state and the District of Columbia. A second survey was sent to each State Representative for the Pediatric Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All 50 states were represented in the responses. The District of Columbia did not respond.

Four states indicated that they did use eligibility criteria which are more specific than IDEA and its regulations. Ten states indicated that they did use a rating scale to help determine frequency of therapy services. A brief report of each state's response is provided.

The conclusion drawn is that statewide guidelines for eligibility provide some consistency between school districts and are helpful to physical therapists and others involved in the education of children with disabilities. It is recommended that North Dakota adopt guidelines which are flexible, in order to allow for individualization according to each student's needs, and which include functional assessment as well as developmental levels.