What is Pediatric Physical Therapy?

Pediatric physical therapy is a specialty that deals with the wide variety of diagnoses that may affect your child's overall development from 0 to 18 years of age. Depending on the age, disability, and setting, the role of the pediatric physical therapist differs greatly. However, the primary role that the pediatric therapist assumes is to be an advocate for you and your child.

Pediatric physical therapists help to ensure that your child's physical performance in every day activities is at its best. Therapists rely on the implementation of their expert knowledge of the neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary, and integumentary (skin) systems to help your child in any one of the following ways:

  • Achieve age-appropriate developmental milestones (e.g., crawl, sit, stand, walk)
  • Better participate in age-appropriate gross motor or school activities with peers
  • Improve range of motion, strength, mobility, posture, balance, endurance for independent function
  • Improve your child's ability to independently negotiate his or her environment (home, school, job, community)
  • Actively participate and contribute to the society at large

Treating your child includes examining, evaluating, and assessing the areas in which your child may have difficulty functioning and then incorporating activities to address these areas. After examining your child, the therapist will make an evaluation of his findings using any combination of standardized tests, observations, and/or clinical expertise.

Once an assessment has been reached, your therapist will discuss his findings with you and educate you on your child's needs; educating caregivers (and your child when possible) on the nature or extent of injury, disability, and the prognosis is an essential component of pediatric physical therapy and helps to keep the caregiver involved and informed of the child's progress. You will also review the plan of care with your therapist, which will entail a discussion of the number of visits, frequency, duration of physical therapy, prognosis, and home activities you must do with your child to help him excel in his areas of difficulty.

Together, you will then create an individualized program specific to your child's goals and/or the family's goals. Activities in the form of play are provided to help your child be better motivated to reach his goals. Your role as a caregiver and your compliance with your child's home program are extremely important for a successful plan of care.

However, please keep in mind that your needs are just as important as your child's needs. In many instances, your pediatric therapist can advocate your needs to the appropriate agencies, which may help to provide you with assistance.