Rehabilitation Therapists’ Role in a Pediatric Environment

By Leesha Augustine, physical therapist; Hema Desai, speech language pathologist; Erin Keller, speech language pathologist; Adriana Rusch, occupational therapist; and Vicky Vu, occupational therapist at CHOC Children’s

The field of rehabilitation services includes a wide variety of opportunities including hospitals (where therapists can treat patients in any department), schools, and outpatient facilities including specialty facilities in the fields of mental health, sports medicine, wellness programs and rehabilitation/skilled nursing. Rehabilitation treatment can be provided for a variety of reasons throughout someone’s life from infancy through adulthood. The Rehabilitation Services team at CHOC Children’s includes physical therapists (PTs), occupational therapists (OTs), and speech-language pathologists (SLPs). Each therapy discipline also has licensed therapy assistants.

What training is required to work in pediatric rehabilitation services?

The therapist track for each discipline requires graduate school in order to be licensed by their respective national boards. The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program is a three-year post baccalaureate program. The traditional OT program is a two-year master’s degree, with the option to further specialized training with a two-year clinical doctorate (OTD). SLP programs are also a two-year master’s degree, along with completion of a nine-month clinical fellowship following graduation. The assistant track for each discipline require a two-year associate degree including a hands-on practicum and licensing exam.

What does a physical therapist do?

They have the opportunity to work with patients and their families to help them restore function to allow them to return to school, sports, playing with friends, work and family events.

rehabilitation
After surgery, physical therapy played a big role in Sydney’s life. Her PT, Robin, is a two-time Olympic medalist and helped Sydney, a fellow athlete, connect with her treatment.

What does an occupational therapist do?

Occupational therapists help others participate in daily activities as independently and safely as possible. They also help children with sensory difficulties, fine motor skill delays, oral motor and feeding skill delays, and dressing difficulties.

rehabilitation
Occupational therapists help others participate in daily activities as independently and safely as possible.

What does a speech language pathologist do?

The role of a SLP is to prevent, assess, diagnose and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication and feeding/swallowing disorders so that individuals can interact with others to the best of their ability.

rehabilitation
Nicole, a speech therapist at CHOC, works with patients with feeding and swallowing disorders, speech delays, brain injuries, and vocal cord dysfunction.

Where would you find rehabilitation services in a hospital setting?

The depth and scope of Rehabilitation Services at CHOC Children’s Hospital is vast, with members of the department working within most service areas of the hospital, including: four specialized intensive care units, the hematology/oncology unit, the medical/surgical unit, and the Neuroscience Institute.

Members of the rehabilitation team provide developmental support for many infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). You may find a SLP or an OT coaching a parent on how to feed their baby for the first time, an OT making custom hand splints to help facilitate improved hand function, or a PT may provide specialized wound care  or assist a patient out of bed for the first time. The rehabilitation team will work with children and families in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) so that a parent can feel safe holding their child after a long-term intubation, a patient with a brain injury can say, “I love you” to his family, and play with his favorite toys.

Children with prolonged hospitalizations due to cancer treatment may receive rehabilitation therapy to encourage developmental skills as well as to recover from the effects of their illness and treatment. While they are admitted to the hospital, we work closely with them to help them regain function in a variety of areas: gross motor skills, fine motor skills, daily activities such as dressing themselves and taking steps, feeding and swallowing, eating and drinking safely, and being able to communicate with their friends and family.

As much as rehabilitation professionals love working with children and their families while they’re in the hospital, the primary goal of this team is to facilitate a safe discharge home and to enable our patients and families to participate in the activities that are most important to them.

Our Orange campus also has a multidisciplinary outpatient rehabilitation department including PT, OT, ST, hand specialist, feeding and wound care therapists. Here, our PTs, OTs and SLPs keep working with our patients after they are discharged from the hospital, as well as patients that are referred for pediatric specialty care from their pediatrician. You will also find PTs, OTs and SLPs working in our ambulatory care clinics, and serving as clinical instructors in their graduate and assistant programs.

No matter the setting for rehabilitation services, treatment goals always have the same common theme― helping kids enjoy doing the things they like best like riding a bike, drawing, or even being able to eat a cupcake!

Learn more about rehabilitation services at CHOC

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Occupational Therapy Celebrates 100 Years

By Lauren Francis, occupational therapist at CHOC Children’s

Occupational therapy is turning 100! The specialty’s roots formed in 1917 as “reconstruction aides” who helped rehabilitate wounded soldiers returning from battle in World War I. Today, occupational therapists apply a holistic approach to help children and adults engage in meaningful activities.

Occupational therapists are experts in addressing any and all areas that “occupy” one’s time. For infants and children, occupational therapy (OT) includes play, learning to move and explore, feeding and eating, and bonding with parents and caregivers. For children and teenagers, this can include gaining independence with self-care, being successful in school, and playing with friends. Pediatric OT sessions often look like play to the untrained eye – most children really enjoy therapy!

CHOC’s occupational therapists (OTs) are highly skilled and trained to help children of all ages who have unique needs. Some key components of OT are:

Feeding Specialists

For a variety of reasons, children may have trouble getting the nutrition they require to grow and develop. CHOC’s occupational therapists help treat a wide range of feeding issues, including babies who have trouble with breast and bottle-feeding, children who have oral motor or sensory difficulties and cannot manage textures of food, and teenagers who may have had an injury or procedure that affected their ability to eat. OTs at CHOC are also highly skilled in specialty therapies such as feeding tube weaning and swallowing therapy.

Sensory & Developmental Specialists

CHOC’s occupational therapists have advanced expertise and techniques to offer children and families with an assortment of developmental challenges as well. From supporting a child to stay strong and active through chemotherapy to helping a child recover from a neurological disorder or brain injury, occupational therapy can be a crucial part of a multidisciplinary care team. Children who have difficulty with sensory processing, learning delays, challenges with self-care, visual motor or visual perceptual deficits, difficulty coordinating their arms and hands, or who aren’t meeting developmental milestones, can all be excellent candidates for occupational therapy intervention.

Parent/Caregiver Collaboration

Perhaps one of the greatest roles occupational therapists play is working with the parents and families of the children we serve. Parent education and involvement in therapy is an essential component to ensuring a child meets his or her goals. Through CHOC’s commitment to patient- and family-centered care, our OTs closely partner with parents to create individualized treatment plans, offer customized home programs unique to each child’s needs, and engage them in all aspects of care.

Preventative Care

CHOC OTs work tirelessly as part of an advanced team to screen children who may be at risk for developmental delays. They apply years of clinical experience and expertise along with standardized testing to assess a child’s movement, mobility, hand use, interaction with the environment, and feeding skills. For children who require a long hospital stay, OTs help provide developmentally appropriate stimulation to help each child continue to grow and develop during their hospital stay.

If you think your child would benefit from occupational therapy, speak to your child’s primary care doctor.

Learn more about rehabilitation services at CHOC.

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CHOC Physical Therapy Improves Quality of Life

The American Physical Therapy Association declares the vision of the physical therapy profession as “transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.” The movement system is complex and includes various conditions of the musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and integumentary systems and their complex interaction that allows kids and teens to experience their environment and actively participate in the activities they enjoy.

How do physical therapists play into this at CHOC? You may see them addressing a wound care plan, educating a family on developmental play activities after an open- heart surgery, teaching a patient how to use crutches after surgery, helping a child balance and coordinate a multi-step task after brain surgery, or progressing the endurance and strength of a child on chemotherapy. Most of all, you will see them educating CHOC families on self-empowerment and independence.

From working with neonates who are learning to self-regulate, to high school athletes hoping to return to their sports after injuries, CHOC’s physical therapists are involved in improving quality of life for our patients and families.

Meet Amanda Traylor, a pediatric physical therapist at CHOC.

Q: What aspect of pediatric physical therapy are you most passionate about?

A: I love working with kids, and we get to work with a diverse age range. I also enjoy the multi-disciplinary collaboration of the rehabilitation department, which includes not only physical therapy, but also occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and developmental therapy.

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered at CHOC?

A: I am inspired by the constant striving of the care team to provide the best evidenced-based practice for our patients and families. Our staff is so involved in our community with different events, education opportunities, and training of future professionals; we really make an impact on Orange County.

Q: What have you learned from your patients?

A: My patients have taught me to focus on what is important and meaningful. Being a part of the medical field, we often establish a plan of care and goals based off the impairments we see, but ultimately it always comes down to what is meaningful for the patient and their family.

Q: What, if anything, surprised you when you became a pediatric physical therapist?

A: We don’t just treat the child; we treat the whole family. The families are truly our backbones for patient care.

Learn more about pediatric physical therapy being delivered at CHOC.

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Olympic Medalist Turned Physical Therapist

When athletes of any caliber come to physical therapy appointments, they often struggle with emotional hurdles as big as their physical challenges. Working with an expert who understands their struggles can make it easier to cope, especially when that expert is a former Olympian.

Robin Beauregard, a physical therapist at CHOC Children’s and two-time Olympic medalist in women’s water polo, understands the physical challenges that can sometimes stand in the way of achieving athletic goals.

olympics

“Having a career in athletics helps me establish a rapport with my patients, particularly my history with sustaining and overcoming injuries,” she says. “Sincere empathy creates a stronger bond than sympathy.”

Shortly before the team was named for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the first time women’s water polo was to be recognized as an Olympic sport, Beauregard dislocated her knee and didn’t know if a recovery was possible. Distraught but determined, she committed fully to her physical therapy plan, as well as a rigorous conditioning program, and made the team. They’d win a silver medal that year, and a bronze four years later. She was later inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame.

Beauregard’s experience with physical therapy in the midst of her Olympic career ultimately played a big role in her professional career.

“I was not the perfect patient, but it prepared me for being a physical therapist because it gave me an idea of asking only what is reasonable of my teen and young adult patients,” she says. “I really do understand their worry of not being able to get back to the top level in their sport, but also weighing the risks of not wanting to cause further or permanent injury.”

Growing up in Southern California, Beauregard loved to be outdoors and was always active. Having an older brother who was also athletic made her competitive, too. She started swimming competitively for a local club team on her fourth birthday simply because her brother swam, and she wanted to be as a good as he was. Water polo came into play just four years later, and by age 8 she joined a competitive club team.

But when she got to high school, there was no girls’ varsity team. Instead of giving up on her passion, she simply joined the boys’ team instead. Playing with the boys didn’t faze her, or them, since they’d been competing together for almost a decade by that point. When opponents made comments about playing with a girl, she channeled it into her game and used it as fuel to play even harder.

olympics

After high school, she attended UCLA to play water polo, and originally planned on becoming an orthopedic surgeon. She later changed her path to physical therapy, which would ultimately give her a different kind of interaction with patients and athletes.

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Concussion Program Prescribes At-Home Exercises

Athletes and other adolescents with mild to severe concussions who experience symptoms such as dizziness, feeling unbalanced on their feet, blurred vision or trouble focusing on objects, may be good candidates for at-home visual and vestibular exercises recently designed by experts of the CHOC Children’s concussion program.

“Concussions are like puzzles, and every one is a little bit different,” says Dr. Jonathan Minor, a CHOC sports medicine specialist. “As many as fifty percent of concussed athletes may experience these symptoms and could benefit from these exercises that may get them back on the field or back in the classroom sooner.”

concussion exercises
Dr. Jonathan Minor models one of several at-home exercises recently designed by experts of the CHOC Children’s concussion program.

The convenient and self-explanatory exercises are ones that athletes and students can perform at home, but should only be started under the guidance of a concussion specialist, after an appropriate evaluation, and as part of an overall post-concussion treatment plan. These exercises are intended to enhance and improve a patient’s recovery from a concussion.

“Patients should be aware that beginning these exercises may stimulate some symptoms for a short period of time, such as trouble focusing, dizziness, nausea or headaches. But after just a few days of daily exercises, they may find that they can tolerate each exercise for a longer period of time,” says Minor, who is a lifetime athlete himself.

“We encourage our patients to only perform these exercises for the duration tolerated, rather than endure and push through worsening symptoms initially. Seeing a difference quickly with improved tolerance resonates especially with athletes, who are used to training and then seeing improved results.”

Download your copy of the vestibular/balance exercises and the visual concussion home exercises.

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