Physical Therapy is a form of treatment often used with differently-abled children as a means of building their physical, functional, and educational skills. Physical Therapists first assess the child’s condition and then they will customize a plan to his or her unique needs. Physical Therapy aims to use the patient’s strengths and abilities as a jumping-off point to design a course of treatment.
According to APTA.org:
“Physical therapists examine and evaluate children having a variety of sensory and motor disabilities. Physical therapists plan and implement programs that will help these children attain their optimal educational potential and benefit from special education. Physical therapists should assume a role in the development of a child's Individual Educational Program (IEP), or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), and make recommendations for increasing a child's ability to participate in educational activities. In addition, physical therapists contribute unique administrative, consultative, management, and teaching skills that help modify the educational environment so that children may benefit from their educational placement.”
Typical exercises that a Physical Therapist will have children perform are related to their motor skills or with the goal in mind of strengthening the child’s muscles. Here are some examples of how Physical Therapy benefits kids with certain conditions.
Physical Therapy can be beneficial to children who have Autism in terms of helping them build motor skills, improve posture and balance, and help with muscle control. In addition to helping them have control over their movements, PT has also been shown to relieve aggression and make children with Autism more adaptive to school settings and even play groups with their peers.
Take a look at this video to see how PT can help improve muscle tone in kids on the Autism Spectrum:
Cerebral Palsy (CP):
Physical and occupational therapy and feeding management are integral parts of most Cerebral Palsy treatment plans. Physical and occupational therapy can assist with mobility, swallowing, and to ensure adequate nutrition.
Physical Therapists work with children with Cerebral Palsy to help them move their bodies more easily to make day-to-day life less challenging. Therapists can help with things such as coordination, flexibility, strength, posture, and balance.
CerebralPalsyGuide.com explains how PT can benefit the different types of CP:
Spastic – Physical therapy can reduce the muscle tension and jerky movements associated with spastic cerebral palsy. Exercises such as stretching can even relieve stiffness over time.
Athetoid – People with athetoid cerebral palsy use physical therapy to increase muscle tone and gain more control over their movements.
Ataxic – There are exercises that can improve balance problems faced by those with ataxic cerebral palsy.
This video shows ways in which a Physical Therapist may work with children with CP:
Children with Down Syndrome may struggle with hypotonia (low-muscle tone), loose ligaments, and reduced strength, all of which impact the development of gross motor skills. Physical Therapy is a foundation of most treatment plans. While PT will likely not accelerate physical development, it will help children develop efficient movement patterns to aid in posture, balance, gait, and foot alignment. PT may also help with improving the child’s physical fitness.
This is an example of a PT session with a child who has Down Syndrome:
Spina Bifida can cause mild to severe physical disabilities which can be improved through intensive physical therapy. In addition to helping with a child’s strength and movement, Physical Therapists can also aid children with Spina Bifida by recommending equipement like wheelchairs, braces, and walkers, and they can also help improve their physical fitness to ward off problems like obesity.
Therapy can be done inside of the home or school as well, in order to better assist the child with Spina Bifida in his/her everyday life.
To see an example of how Physical Therapists work with children with Spina Bifida, take a look at this video.
Traumatic Brain Injury:
For kids who have sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury, Physical Therapists can help them regain their mobility, strength, balance, and coordination. They will work on things such as muscle and joint flexibility, the ability to sit up or stand without support, and with strength and energy so they are not as easily fatigued.
Where Can I Find a Physical Therapist?
Talk to your pediatrician or family practitioner, as she/he will be able to recommend Physical Therapists in your area. To locate a therapist online, you can search this directory, which is provided by the American Physical Therapy Association.
Autism Speaks also has a searchable database of Physical Therapists.
*It’s important to note that we do not maintain these lists of therapists and cannot recommend or vouch for any given practitioner on the list. It is our hope that you will simply use these links as a jumping-off point for your own research.
Have you had experience with PT as part of your child’s treatment? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. If you are a Physical Therapist or practitioner, we invite you to join our practitioner registry.