What is physical therapy or “PT”?

child-on-tricyclePhysical Therapy, or PT, can help your child increase strength, flexibility or endurance, and improve posture, balance and movement (such as walking). Therapy can help improve overall function and reduce disability. PT generally involves “gross motor” therapy, which means large body parts, such as the legs, but it can involve the entire body.

PT may be provided for your baby, toddler or school age child, depending on her needs. If you have a child with a developmental delay, disability or medical condition, her doctor may recommend PT.  Likewise, if your child is evaluated for early intervention services by the Child Find services or by your local school district, she may qualify for PT services. (See my posts on early intervention for babies and toddlers or intervention for children ages 3 and older to learn how to request an evaluation for free.) PT falls under the umbrella of “Related Services” which is available for children with disabilities, in order for them to benefit from special education.

In most cases, if your child qualifies (based on the results of an evaluation), she will receive the PT services for free. However, every state has slightly different regulations, so you should check with your state to find out more specifics.

Who provides the PT services?

The IDEA (law) says that physical therapy means “services provided by a qualified physical therapist.” Every state requires a physical therapist to be licensed. A physical therapist is highly educated. In fact, according to their credentialing organization, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA),  “all physical therapists must receive a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapist program before taking the national licensure exam that allows them to practice. Physical therapists have the most specialized education to help people restore and improve motion.”

Where will the PT take place?

If your child qualifies for PT, services will be provided at a place that is appropriate for your child. This may be your home, a PT center, hospital, or your child’s local school. PTs who work with children are usually very creative. They find engaging ways to interact with your child, making the sessions fun while working toward goals. Kids usually enjoy PT sessions and look forward to them.

Remembering back to when my daughter received PT, she “played” with scarves and bean bags, ran obstacle courses, climbed ropes and balanced on huge balls or balance beams. She loved playing games such as Twister with some of her classmates. She even learned to ride a tricycle in her PT sessions!

What will the goals of PT be?

Specific needs and goals will be outlined in your child’s individualized plan. This is called an IFSP – Individualized Family Service Plan (for kids from birth to age 3) and an IEP -Individualized Education Program (for kids ages 3 and older). This document will provide details of the services she will receive, such as the specific goals to be achieved, how often she will see the physical therapist and the place where services will take place. Parents, as team members, have input into the creation of this very important document.

Often a PT will coordinate therapy goals with your child’s other therapists, such as an occupational therapist, to maximize results. And, it is important that a child’s teacher understand the goals and objectives of the PT sessions so that progress can be integrated into the classroom.

Remember, the goals to be achieved are specific to each individual child, and is based on her needs. Every child is unique! There is no one-size-fits-all plan. And, at a minimum, goals need to be reviewed and updated yearly. See my prior post on how to create a good IEP.

Bottom line

Physical therapy has helped many babies, toddlers and children to overcome obstacles. If your child qualifies to receive this service, it may make a huge difference in her life!

Have questions?  Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started on January 16, 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Feel free to go back to look at prior posts as the series builds on itself. As always, we welcome your comments and input.