Many parents with concerns about their child’s development may be referred to a therapy provider by their pediatrician or through a Child Find developmental assessment. Often, these parents are left wondering, “Why does my child need physical/occupational/speech therapy?” It can be overwhelming and confusing to learn that your child needs one or multiple therapy services, and not every family is given a thorough explanation of the developmental areas addressed by each of the services. The purpose of this article is to inform you about the purpose of and skills addressed by each of the three disciplines.
Physical Therapists (PTs)
Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat people of all ages who have medical issues or other health-related conditions that limit one’s ability to move and complete functional activities in their daily lives. Physical therapists examine every client and create a plan to promote their ability to move, restore function, reduce pain, and prevent disability. Additionally, PTs work with people to encourage long-term mobility by developing wellness- and fitness-based programs that support active lifestyles. Physical therapists work in many different settings, including private practice, hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, home health agencies, work settings, sports/fitness facilities, and nursing homes. Physical therapists are required to be licensed in each state in which they practice.
Physical Therapy Assistants (PTAs)
Physical therapy assistants are licensed professionals who follow treatment plans developed by a physical therapist, and they must always be supervised by a PT. They have different education requirements than PTs, and they specialize in intervention techniques as opposed to evaluation skills.
Skills Addressed in Pediatric Physical Therapy:
· Bilateral motor coordination (using both sides of the body in a coordinated way)
· Functional mobility (walking, crawling, going up and down stairs)
· Physical transitions (moving from sit to stand, rolling from one side to the other)
Occupational Therapists (OTs)
Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals who work with people across the lifespan to help them do the activities they want and need to do. Occupational therapists use daily activities, or occupations, to empower people to live life to the fullest by promoting health and prevention of injury, disability, or illness. Occupational therapists can help children with disabilities participate more effectively in school and social contexts, assist those recovering from injuries regain lost skills, and support older adults who are experiencing cognitive and physical changes. Because OTs work with people on all of life’s occupations, they are able to facilitate improved function in self-care activities, home management, rest and sleep, education, work, play, and leisure activities. Like PTs, occupational therapists work in schools, outpatient clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies. They are required to be licensed in the state(s) in which they practice.
Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs)
Occupational therapy assistants are licensed professionals who follow treatment plans developed by an occupational therapist, and they must always be supervised by an OT. They have different education requirements than OTs, and they specialize in intervention techniques as opposed to evaluation skills.
Skills Addressed in Pediatric Occupational Therapy:
· Fine motor skills
· Visual motor skills
· Sensory integration & processing
· Developmental reflexes
· Motor planning (planning and carrying out a novel physical task/movement)
· Auditory processing (understanding and processing what you hear)
· Oral motor muscle function (function of muscles in and around the mouth used for eating)
· Posture & positioning
· Functional communication
Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs)
Speech-language pathologists aim to assess, diagnose, prevent, and treat various disorders of speech, language, cognitive communication, social communication, and swallowing disorders in both children and adults. They provide rehabilitation services for people who may be deaf or hard of hearing, and they implement augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems for those who experience severe expressive and/or receptive language disorders, including, but not limited to, autism spectrum disorder and progressive neurological disorders. In some cases, SLPs work with people with no speech, language, or swallowing deficits, but are interested in more effective communication skills. Speech language pathologists train and educate patients as well as their family/caregivers and other professionals who work with the individual. They work collaboratively with many other disciplines such as OT and PT, and they are also required to be licensed in the state(s) in which they work.
Speech-Language Pathologist Assistants (SLPAs)
Speech-language pathology assistants are licensed professionals who follow treatment plans developed by an SLP, and they must always be supervised by an SLP. They have different education requirements than SLPs, and they specialize in intervention techniques as opposed to evaluation skills.
Skills Addressed in Pediatric Speech Therapy:
· Language & pragmatics (context in which language is used)
· Articulation (forming distinct sounds in speech)
· Feeding/Dysphagia (swallowing difficulties)
· Hearing/Auditory skills
· Oral-facial muscle function (function of the muscles used for talking)
Ultimately, PTs, OTs, and SLPs all aim to help people reach their highest potential for the specific skills each discipline addresses. All three disciplines create an individualized treatment plan for each patient after evaluating their current skills and goals. For more information about the work of each specific discipline, please visit the references at the bottom of this article or reach out to your child’s therapist(s).
By: Whitney Redler, OTD, OTR/L and Brittany Catalano-Hall, MS OTR/L