If you’re the parent of a special needs child, you already know the challenges you and your child face every day. However, you also know how loving and special your child is, as well as how important it is to nurture his or her growth in every way possible to maximize his or her potential. This is where educational physical therapy can be a major asset. Different from typical physical therapy, educational physical therapy focuses on gross motor, fine motor and language skills, as well as mobility goals. And while a special needs child will, no doubt, see a host of medical professionals over his or her childhood, there’s a good chance an educational physical therapist could and should be among them.
“My husband and I both work in pediatrics,” said pediatric physical therapist Rosalyn “RaRa” Schlitt from the Blount Memorial Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic at Springbrook. “We see the first trickle of growth and development in children, as well as the unique ways motor development unfolds. Being parents ourselves, we also know the concern parents and caregivers have for young children who might not flow and develop like their peers. What does a parent do if their child is not sitting, rolling, crawling, pulling to stand, cruising, standing or walking in a desired timeframe? The first step is to contact your child’s pediatrician so that you can share your concerns about his or her growth and development, and the options available. If the evidence shows that your child is indeed slower than expected in areas such as gross motor, fine motor or language skills, your doctor can make a referral for physical, occupational and/or speech therapy,” Schlitt explained.
“However, if your child is of preschool age and will be entering the school system, you can seek an evaluation of your preschooler for educational physical therapy,” Schlitt said. “Typically, the school’s special education program will develop an individual educational plan (IEP) for your child. Educational physical therapy supports the learning goals set out by the teacher and your child’s IEP with measurable objectives to meet those goals. For instance, if your child has difficulty climbing the playground ladder, balancing on the swing, going up and down the school stairs, or carrying the cafeteria tray, these concerns would be areas appropriate for an educational physical therapy evaluation,” she said.
Schlitt says there are other practical, everyday tasks that can be helped through educational physical therapy, however, an occasional referral to clinical or medical pediatric physical, occupational and/or speech therapy might be warranted if medical issues need to be addressed. “In educational physical therapy, mobility exercises can cover everything from learning to use a power wheelchair to orchestrating a child’s first steps with braces in a school setting. For children, mobility with a reasonable and sensible purpose is the best-case scenario. Sometimes that purpose is attending and participating in the Special Olympics, going on a field trip, going to the library with their class, or simply being in the best position possible to learn, play, or be part of a class,” she explained.
Schlitt says working with special needs children is its own reward. “People sometimes ask my husband and me how we can spend our time working with children who have special needs and disabilities,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t know who smiles first. We find our students and clients to be fun, fascinating and beautiful. A lot can be learned by observing the early initial movement patterns in a young child with a physical disability. Physical therapy implemented at an early age, sometimes referred to as early intervention, addresses movement patterns, equipment needs and overall physical functioning. These young members of our community have much to offer to their schools, and to all of us, and that makes the job worth it,” she added.
For more information about educational physical therapy, contact the Blount Memorial Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic at Springbrook at 865-980-7129.