Physical Therapy. For My Baby?!
Find out when to take your child to see a physical therapist.
I had the amazing opportunity to interview pediatric physical therapist Dr. Erica Martin, PT, DPT, PCS of Dynamic Solutions Pediatric Physical and Occupational Therapy in Brooklyn.
See her advice and insights here. (Full disclosure my son goes to physical therapy with Erica.)
Question 1: What is pediatric physical therapy?
Dr. Erica Martin: To put it simply, pediatric physical therapy is the treatment of babies, toddlers, children and teens to support them in meeting their maximal function and participation in the home, school and community environments. Pediatric physical therapists are specially trained in motor development, movement and body function. Through clinical expertise we are able to provide assessments and evaluations to develop and implement individualized programs to meet a child’s specific needs and goals. In collaboration with families and other health care providers, we treat conditions related to genetics, orthopedics, neurological disorders, developmental disorders and overall health and wellness.
Question 2: When would you recommend getting physical therapy, for example, for idiopathic delayed walking? And why? (Idiopathic means unexplained, I believe.)
Dr. Erica Martin: One of the areas I think parents and physicians struggle with is when to make a referral for pediatric physical therapy in the absence of a diagnosis or acute injury. However, we know that it is vital for a child who is “at risk” for significant motor delays to be identified early and receive therapy at a young age. Research has proven that children who receive intervention early have improved outcomes and prognosis. It is recommended that if there are any concerns in a child’s motor development, a physical therapy referral for evaluation is warranted. In an ideal situation, we would see children before there are very significant delays in motor development or functional mobility. A child who is demonstrating difficulty tolerating tummy time, not weight bearing through their legs, unable to hold their head midline (only turns to one side), unable to use two hands together, not crawling or predominately scoots at 12 months, not walking by 18 months, ONLY “W” sits, falls and trips frequently, walks on their toes for an extended period of time (4 months) are all early signs a child that may be at risk for developing delays and thereby, should be evaluated by a specially trained pediatric therapist. After evaluation, a pediatric therapist will be able to identify whether skilled intervention is needed, or if these concerns are considered “within normal” and will not interfere with the child’s ability to attain skills or “catch up” on their own.
Question 3: Many parents seem to have mixed feelings about therapy for their babies or toddlers. Do you have thoughts or advice for them?
Dr. Erica Martin: Being a mother myself, I sympathize tremendously with the parents and families of the children I see. Being a parent comes with so many doubts and worries. Parents who have children with different needs are forced to navigate this often confusing and ambiguous world of: how do I get services? Does my child really need these services? Where do I go for services? Is this therapist a good fit for my child? How is therapy funded? It’s endless.
With little guidance and resources available, this leaves many parents with even more doubt, worry and questions. My advice would be:
1) First, to always trust your instincts. Ultimately, you do know what is best for your child and your family.
2) Second, I would recommend talking to trusted medical professionals and specialists and ask lots of questions. This may mean you need to seek out specific specialists and opinions, but ultimately it will help to fill in the gaps and support your decisions.
3) Third, and maybe most important, talk to and meet with other parents who are, or have, gone through similar situations. Other families will not only be one of your greatest resources, but also a vital emotional support when needed.
In the end, if a parent is still unsure if they need to see a pediatric physical therapist, I would say that it could only help. There is nothing in therapy that could harm a child and at the very least, if it turns out your baby does not need therapy, you will now be sure of that!