Children are often balls of energy – running about and playing non-stop. However, injuries can occur at any age and with varying degrees of severity. Or your child may have a health condition that needs to be addressed. Has your child been prescribed physical therapy? Not sure where to begin your search for the right pediatric physical therapist? Then let’s talk about how to find a good physical therapist for kids and other related concerns.
Who is a Pediatric Physical Therapist?
A pediatric physical therapist is a trained medical professional who works with children to improve their mobility. They do this by guiding them through specific movements and activities that target specific impairments and problem areas to correct them.
Pediatric physical therapists work with children of all ages and backgrounds and in a variety of settings. They address injuries, autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions.
How to Choose the Right Pediatric Physical Therapist for Your Child
There are many reasons why your child may require physical therapy. However, choosing the right pediatric physical therapist can be challenging. Both you and any of your child’s guardians should feel comfortable with the therapist and the rest of the staff at the practice. Above all, your pediatric physical therapist should be able to develop an easy rapport with your child.
Yet, there are other practical concerns. If you need to find the best physical therapist, then here are a few questions that you should consider:
Do They Accept My Insurance?
It’s sad that you first need to consider the cost of healthcare, but it’s an unfortunate reality. You want to start searching for a list of physical therapists in your area who will accept you and your child’s insurance.
Many pediatric physical therapists accept a range of insurance plans. However, you need to ensure that your particular insurance will be accepted. You can also ask your insurance company and pediatrician to help you find a good physical therapist for your child.
Does the Physical Therapist Have Experience in Pediatrics and Your Child’s Diagnosis?
You don’t want to take your child to a physical therapist that is a generalist. You want your child’s physical therapist to be an expert in pediatric care. Also, your physical therapist must have experience treating your child’s diagnosis.
Therefore, you should ask questions about the therapist’s years of experience in your child’s area of diagnosis. Ask if the therapist frequently treats children, and what percentage of their caseload is devoted to pediatric care.
How Do Our Treatment Goals Align?
The last thing you want to happen is to have different treatment goals that don’t coincide with those of your therapist. So at the beginning of the process, you should have an honest discussion about your expectations and goals for your child. Also, be prepared to listen to the therapist’s prognosis and treatment plan.
You may not be on the same page as your physical therapist at first, but the key is to have all parties share their expectations and goals. As the treatment goes on, you will both be able to assess your child’s progress and see what adjustments may be necessary.
Does My Child Have a Connection With That Physical Therapist?
While you want your child’s health condition to improve, that’s not the only thing. You also want your child to enjoy going to therapy sessions because they have a good rapport with your physical therapist. Furthermore, that rapport will help your child do much better in therapy.
Who Will Treat My Child After Evaluation?
You need to know who will work with your child after the assessment. Will your child work with the same physical therapist every week? Or will you have a different therapist for each vist?
You want continuity in your child’s physical therapy treatment. Physical therapy is an ongoing, intuitive process. So if your child works with a different therapist each week, then he or she will miss out on key growth opportunities. Also, having the same therapist will help your child have a sense of comfort and safety during therapy sessions.
At most clinics, therapists will evaluate and re-evaluate patients, while the physical therapy assistants (PTAs) perform all treatments. Oftentimes, parents are not aware of the difference and will mistake a PTA for a physical therapist.
What’s the difference between a physical therapist and a PTA? A PTA must complete a 2-year associate degree program. This may include up to 18 weeks of clinical experience with no required prerequisites. However, the state’s practice act limits which manual interventions they can perform.
A physical therapist has to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. A DPT requires a 4-year Bachelor’s degree. This Bachelor’s degree has prerequisite courses about the body’s structure and how it works before beginning formalized physical therapy education.
The formalized DPT program is at least 2.5 years of postgraduate work – inclusive of up to 36 weeks of clinical experience – before being allowed to practice. Furthermore, many physical therapists will complete residencies, fellowships, or further professional certifications.
What Type of Continuing Education Has My Therapist Completed in the Past 3 Years?
Continuous learning is a minimum requirement for any field. And this is also true for physical therapists, as there are new evidence and tools that are constantly being introduced. You want your child’s physical therapist to be current with the latest medical techniques and interventions and those that have been discontinued due to their ineffectiveness.
Your child’s physical therapist should be able to use some of their continuing education in their practice. This should include manual therapy, hands-on facilitation, and an intensive understanding of the human body. These competencies can’t be taught online, so it should not just be a matter of completing certifications online. There should be clinical training as well.
Some other questions to consider are:
- How well-staffed does the clinic appear?
- Are the facilities well maintained?
- What’s the clinic’s “culture” like? Are people cold and abrupt, or are they friendly and sociable?
- How many patients does your pediatric physical therapist see on a given day?
What to Expect When Your Child Goes to Physical Therapy
Knowing that your child needs physical therapy can induce a lot of anxiety. This is even more so if you have never needed the services of a pediatric physical therapist. There’s uncertainty and you may not be sure that these interventions will be effective. So let’s discuss what to expect when your child goes to physical therapy with these FAQs:
Why Does My Child Need to See a Physical Therapist?
Your family doctor or pediatrician may have referred your child to see a pediatric physical therapist. This is so that they can evaluate your child’s mobility, strength, balance, coordination, and overall ability to function in his/her environment.
The physical therapist will work closely with you and your family to understand your child’s concerns. They will also partner with you to develop SMART goals and a treatment plan that will accomplish those goals.
What Happens During the Evaluation?
Your physical therapist will use a computer to record your child’s medical history. Be prepared to answer questions about your child’s birth, illnesses, medications, development milestones reached, and what your child can do now. You may also have to complete a form that asks you questions about your child’s abilities in more detail.
The therapist will also conduct a physical examination of your child. They will check the mobility of your child’s joints, posture, muscle strength, and how he or she functions. Depending on your child’s age, the therapist may also observe your child rolling, crawling, sitting, walking, running, and hopping, as well as tossing and catching a ball. Once again, the therapist may record their observations with a computer.
How Long Does This Evaluation Take?
The evaluation will last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
Will There be Time to Discuss the Findings and How Much Therapy My Child Will Need?
Your physical therapist will allocate some time at the end of the evaluation to discuss the initial findings with you. They will discuss the areas for improvement, a treatment plan, and their professional recommendations for the type(s) of physical therapy that should be performed. They will also talk about the discharge plan when your child’s therapy sessions end.
Will I Get a Report From This Evaluation?
Yes, you will get a written report within three weeks of the evaluation date.
How to Prepare for Your Child’s First Visit to The Physical Therapist
Let’s talk about what you should do to prepare for a visit to the pediatric physical therapist:
What You Must Bring With You
You should ensure that you take along with you:
- A current photo ID (like a driver’s license)
- Your insurance card
- Your referral letter (if required)
- A current list of medications
- Any health equipment that your child regularly uses
- School reports (for school-aged children)
- Prior evaluation reports (if any)
- The names and addresses of professionals that you may want to receive a copy of your child’s physical therapy evaluation report
- A list of questions to ask your therapist
What Your Child Should Wear
We recommend that you have your child wear loose, comfortable clothing and a pair of sturdy socks. The therapist will likely need to remove some of your child’s clothes to see how he/she breathes or the position of their legs. For children with orthopedic concerns, we recommend that they also wear a pair of shorts for privacy reasons.
Taking Other Children to the Session
If possible, we recommend that siblings stay home and not attend the session. As a parent or guardian, you will need to give your child and the therapist your full attention throughout. Since arranging for childcare can be difficult, if you must take your other children along, then bring activities and another adult with you to help keep them busy during the evaluation.
Pediatric Physical Therapy Sessions
Children may need to get physical therapy for many reasons. The most common situation is a broken leg and children often receive physical therapy before leaving the hospital. They are taught how to walk with crutches and safely navigate stairs. A physical therapist knows the best way to hold crutches and can teach children how much weight they can place on the broken leg.
When a child is just learning how to walk with crutches, the physical therapist may have your child wear a safety belt to prevent a stumble or fall while practicing. The physical therapist will teach you how to help them use their crutches safely on flat surfaces and stairs. Make sure that your child also has good supportive shoes – like sneakers – when using their crutches.
The Learning-by-Playing Approach
Children learn best through play and so your physical therapist will likely have toys on hand for your child to play with. You may also find balls of all sizes, swings, slides, and sometimes interactive video games in pediatric therapy gyms.
A physical therapy session lasts from 30 minutes to an hour. The length of time depends on the child’s age and the type of problems he or she is having. Your child may just see the physical therapist once or twice per week, and some children may need to be in therapy for several months. So it helps if children can have some fun while they are doing their physical therapy exercises.
How Do I Find a Rehabilitation Program for Children?
We have talked about how to find a good physical therapist for kids. You should now have a good idea about how to find the right physical therapist for your child’s care and what you should expect from the sessions. Are you in the Shelton, CT area? Then we invite you to visit Moving With Hope! We have teams of expert physical therapists and other medical professionals that can manage your child’s care. We will also work with your existing medical team to offer the best healthcare. Contact us today and let’s start working towards your child’s best health!