Physical Therapy (PT) plays a huge role in the development of some toddlers with special needs. According to Genevieve Rivadelo (aka Teacher Geevee), a registered physical therapist and SPED (Special Education) specialist, PT or Physiotherapy is a health care discipline that aims to maximize the quality of life of persons, including kids, who have impaired movement and function because of injury, disease, aging, congenital conditions, and other environmental factors. It is concerned with prevention, treatment, habilitation and rehabilitation with pediatrics, a sub-specialization.
PT and SPED are distinct disciplines but can collaborate as a part of an interdisciplinary team providing assessment and intervention for children (babies, toddlers and above) with special needs. The Physical Therapist and SPED Teacher can work together to optimize the gross-motor skills through activities that would build on the child’s strength, endurance, agility and coordination. According to Diana Lodge and Laura Colker, authors of The Creative Curriculum for Early Childhood, the SPED teacher, for example, can accommodate the needs of children with physical disabilities by:
Organizing physical space to accommodate a child who uses a wheelchair to move around:
Using tables that can fit wheelchairs under, or provide trays on wheelchairs;
Using bolsters or other supports for floor activities;
Providing adaptive equipment for standing; and
Learning about the availability of assistive technology and devices.
Whereas the Physical Therapist would focus on diagnosing problem areas with the use of some standardized assessment tools where a PT degree is required, and the application of specific intervention for high-risk medical conditions such as seizure disorders and the like.
In what situations would a child typically need PT?
Any situation where there is a developmental delay or unusual performance of gross-motor skills can warrant PT intervention which includes children with Down Syndrome, Mental Retardation/Global Developmental Delay, Cerebral Palsy, the Blind/Visually-Impaired, Autism, Orthopedically-Handicapped, Health-Impaired, and other genetic, metabolic and neurologic conditions.
What are the taletell signs that your child needs PT?
Generally, the red flag for a gross-motor delay is when a child who is one and 1/2 year old is not yet able to walk. However, if you notice that at six months old, your baby still cannot hold his head up, or there is some stiffness of any or all of his limbs, or he still cannot sit by himself at one year old, then a visit to a PT (with a referral from a medical doctor) is necessary.
To parents who think that their child (aged 0-6) needs PT, Teacher Geevee says, “Early intervention is critical to the optimal development of children. It's always best to be sure that the child is at par with typical milestones since a delay in one area, in this case in motor development, can significantly affect development in all other areas (language, psychosocial, cognitive, self-help). Providing a stimulating environment and a structured PT program would definitely be beneficial for any child, rather than having a 'sit-and-wait' attitude. The child stands to gain from early intervention.”
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Genevieve Rivadelo, PTRP, PHD (candidate), Chairperson, Miriam College SPED Department, and Executive Director, ALRES-PHILS, Inc., 26-B Agno St. corner Cordillera St., Doña Josefa, Quezon City 1113, www.alres-phils.com
Dodge, Diane Trister & Colker, Laura J. (2001) The Creative Curriculum® for Early Childhood. 3rd ed. Teaching Strategies, Inc. U.S.A.