A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Rehabilitation: How it’s customized for children

Each child is unique and so is their pediatric rehab approach. That’s why pediatric physical, occupational and speech-language therapists have specialized training in treating children with orthopedic conditions, sensory differences, and motor, language, cognitive and social or emotional delays.

A comprehensive picture of their needs is captured with input from physical, occupational and speech-language therapy at the time of assessment. The information is then used to customize treatment for each child and embedded into their sessions.

Occupational therapy helps children form habits

pediatric rehab with a child and physical therapist

Therapy is typically introduced to children as a place to have fun while learning new skills.

Occupational therapy works on functional skills to help progress independence and age-appropriate development in children and focuses on helping them form habits. Common conditions treated include autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder, developmental delays, orthopedic conditions of upper extremities, picky eating and behavioral disorders.

“Our main goal is to address the functional deficits impacting a child’s daily occupations or activities to improve their ability for independence and overall daily function,” said Emily Coates, occupational therapist with Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Each session with a child is structured to meet their needs and to help build on their skills. Therapists choose activities that aren’t too difficult where the child can’t participate or becomes too frustrated.

Physical therapy works to meet the child’s needs

Physical therapy for children is play- and activity-based with therapeutic aspects that meet that child’s needs and the child’s and parent’s goals. While adults often may repeat the same exercises and are comfortable working in a routine, children need engaged, fun sessions that help improve physical functions.

“We utilize a variety of toys and equipment to help with gross motor tasks, walking, balance, strengthening, coordination and proper alignment in a fun and challenging way,” said Kayla Martin, physical therapist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. Therapists also work with children who need rehab for orthopedic injuries, genetic disorders, traumatic brain injuries and neurological disorders.

Speech-language therapy focuses on development of communication skills within kids’ daily routines

Speech-language therapists target skills such as speech sound production, expressive and receptive language, alternative communication like pictures and buttons, fluency, social communication and more.

“Our goal is to meet the child and family where they are at and improve skills to align with functional life goals. Extensive focus is also placed on family education to support development of these skills within different environments, like home and school,” said Erin Zigler, speech language pathologist with Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Play-based therapy

Pediatric rehab is typically introduced to children as a place to have fun while learning new skills. As a child, play is their main occupation and becomes the main focus of their rehab through fun and unique ways to help accomplish their therapy goals, including toys designed to help work through therapy skills.

“Skills are taught within the functional context of play…Focus is more on the ‘what’ a child is learning with clear, simple and age-appropriate direction provided, and less on the ‘why’ they are learning it,” Zigler said.

“Children learn and improve skills through active engagement in play activities,” Coates said. “Having a variety of ‘tools’ we’re able to utilize helps promote function, while keeping in mind the child’s interests and activities they find meaningful and engaging.”

Parents and caregivers play a big role in pediatric rehab

Parents and caregivers know their children best. Their input and goals, combined with development milestones to drive and guide treatments, is catered to each child and family.

Zigler shares that in speech therapy, parents and caregivers will be coached to follow a format of “observe, try and reflect” as they learn ways to help stimulate communication and development of their children’s speech and language skills.

“Repetition and practice across multiple environments is best to progress the skills we address in rehab,” said Elsa Spitzmueller, occupational therapist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “The parent’s or caregiver’s assistance in implementation of home programming in a child’s natural environment plays a pivotal role in overall progress.”

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