So you think your child may need the help of a pediatric therapist but not sure where to start? Let’s break down the basics of pediatric speech therapy (ST), occupational therapy (OT), and physical therapy (PT) to help answer some of the questions you may have. Many kids may require one or more of these types of services, and knowing what professional is best suited to address your child’s specific difficulties can lead to better outcomes. Does a child who tippy toe walks need PT or OT? Do feeding difficulties call for OT or ST? Many diagnoses such as autism, genetic disorders and syndromes, developmental delays, and hearing impairments entail some sort of speech, occupational, or physical therapy. Sometimes the reasons behind the difficulties are not clear, so the best approach is to seek out a professional who can point you in the right direction. But who does what?
A speech therapist is formally called a speech language pathologist (SLP). An SLP can assess, diagnose, and treat communication difficulties as well as some feeding problems. Populations that SLPs treat range in age from infancy into adulthood and represent a variety of disorders.
The following are some difficulties that pediatric SLPs treat:
- Speech or language delays (“My child is not talking yet or doesn’t have many words.”)
- Speech sound disorders (“My child cannot make a certain sound (e.g. “L” or “R”).”)
- Receptive and expressive language disorders (“My child has difficulty understanding what he or she hears, or, My child has trouble finding and putting words together.”)
- Fluency (“My child stutters or has trouble getting his words out.”)
- Voice disorders (“My child’s voice sounds scratchy, strained, or painful.”)
- Pragmatics, social communication disorders (“My child has trouble with interacting appropriately with others socially.”)
- Motor speech disorders (“My child has a hard time moving his mouth correctly to make speech sounds”)
- Dysphagia/feeding disorders (“My child has difficulty managing and swallowing food in his mouth or coughs or chokes after swallowing.”)
- Oral motor deficits (“My child sticks out her tongue when eating or talking.”)
- Augmentative & Alternative Communication (“My child needs some sort of device or visual supports to help him communicate.”)
A pediatric physical therapist is trained to evaluate and provide treatment for children who have a wide range of injuries, congenital conditions, and delays in motor skills. Phyical therapists (PT) and physical therapy assistants (PTA) provide treatment to develop strength and range of motion for children to move through their environment easily and effectively. Individualized treatment may include improving a child’s motor skills in the areas of strength, range of motion, endurance, balance, gait, and coordination.
The following are some populations and diagnoses pediatric PTs and PTAs may treat:
- Cerebral palsy
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Spina Bifida
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Sports injuries
- Gross motor developmental delays (i.e. crawling, walking)
- Neurological impairments
- Developmental coordination disorders
Occupational therapy helps children succeed functionally in their everyday lives by targeting fine or gross motor skills, visual motor skills, activities of daily living (ADLs), social skills, attention, body regulation, sensory input, and feeding difficulties.
Pediatric occupational therapists may diagnoses and treat children with a variety of underlying disorders including:
- Sensory processing disorders
- Feeding disorders (“My child will only eat certain foods”)
- Dysgraphia (“My child’s handwriting is very difficult to read.”)
- Learning disorders
- Cognitive delays (i.e. problem solving, memory, attention)
- Sensory integration
- Self-care (i.e. getting dressed, tying shoes)
If you have concerns in any of these areas and are not sure where to start, talk to your pediatrician or one of these specialized therapists in our clinic. Not every child that is evaluated qualifies for therapy services. Whether a child qualifies or not, the evaluating therapist will be able to make recommendations, refer you to another specialist if needed, and maybe even ease your worries about your child’s areas of difficulty. Parents and therapists across disciplines all work together as a collaborative team to help determine and pursue the best for your child!
Liana Martinez, M.A. CCC-SLP