Physical Therapy for the Special Needs Child

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What can physical therapy do for children with special needs?

When most of us think about physical therapy, we picture a hospital setting where a physical therapist is working with an accident victim or someone with a brain injury to help restore impaired mobility and their ability to perform other essential activities of daily living.

Physical Therapy
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But improving gross motor movement is not the only way in which physical therapy can help children with special needs!

In addition to helping children with mobility issues, physical therapy can also help improve balance, motor coordination, and stabilize posture.

In the educational setting, physical therapy can help:

  • Improve fine motor movement
  • Develop reciprocal play skills
  • Improve motor imitation skills
  • Improve language skills
  • Increase fitness and stamina
  • Develop or improve body and safety awareness
  • Help kids establish or improve participation in regular routines!

Physical therapists can also incorporate PT goals and objectives that have been developed specifically for children with autism into their treatment plans!

After my daughter, Bethany underwent brain tumor surgery she suffered a stroke which ultimately affected her left side.

She was unable to sit up, stand, walk, talk, or feed herself anymore, so physical therapy was ordered to help restore her ability to perform those activities.

Her gross and fine motor muscles needed to be strengthened and reminded how to function properly.

Because Bethany’s tumor was in her cerebellum, her balance and coordination was also severely impaired.

Bethany’s  physical therapist, my husband and I worked with her for several years on goals such as:

Sitting: Bethany needed to strengthen her trunk muscles before she could sit up again, so we did a lot of wheel barrow races, back bends (with a lot of support), crawling through tunnels, sitting with support on a therapy ball, and rolling on a peanut ball.

Standing and Walking: My husband, Malcolm built tiny little parallel bars for her to hold onto while she was trying to learn how to stand and walk again. We broke our backs, bending over and holding her hands so she could walk! Bethany was also trained to use the cutest and tiniest special needs walker that I had ever seen! She scooted around all over the place with that for quite a while before she began walking unassisted!

Balance and coordination: The therapy and peanut balls did double duty and helped Bethany with her balance and coordination issues as well as strengthening her trunk. She also enjoyed walking on a balance beam and an obstacle course set up with river stones, Step N Stones, and cones. Other activities that helped improve her balance and coordination were playing catch, kick ball, jumping on one leg and on the trampoline!

As I mentioned earlier, Bethany worked on her physical therapy goals for quite a few years before she was released from PT!

When she could successfully out run her dad and I and climb to the top of the highest slide at the park all by herself, it was determined that she no longer needed physical therapy!

However, thanks to the YMCA and activities at Flash Club, Bethany continues to strengthen and train her muscles and maintain the PT goals and objectives that she has worked so hard to achieve!

For more information about pediatric strokes, hemiplegia, and physical therapy please visit: The Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association

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