As healthcare providers, we sometimes forget how hard it is for some of our patients to handle their physical handicaps. Children, especially, need supportive physical therapists at school, for a number of reasons. Taking steps to make sure the children you work with are comfortable with you will help them handle their condition at an important time in their lives.
Explain it to Others
Make sure the other children who interact with your patient on a regular basis are aware of the condition. If they don’t seem to notice anything is wrong, leave it that way. It’s when they start asking the child questions, or noticing the child gets treated differently—leaving class to visit you—that problems could arise for the child. To help counteract taunts and bullying, meet with the teachers to discuss ways to explain to the rest of the class about your patient’s disability in simple terms they can understand. It is helpful to explain to the other children what kids with your patient’s condition can do instead of focusing on what they can’t do.
Make Sure the Tools the Child Needs are Available
In spite on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973, some facilities are not equipped to handle certain physical handicaps. Regardless of the specific disability, children should have everything they need to function properly while at school.
Wheel chair ramps should be available near all sets of stairs, and all doors should be easy to open – and open wide enough to accommodate the chairs. Make sure rails are available on all stairways. The rails should be sturdy and at a reasonable height for the children to reach. For children who cannot effectively climb stairs alone, but do not use a wheelchair, designate someone to assist them with each set of stairs, unless an elevator is available.
Talk to Them
Sometimes, talking to the children about their thoughts and feelings is the best form of help you can provide. Like a teacher, this child will turn to you when he or she needs something; and if it relates to the handicap, the child is more likely to approach you than their teacher. It is important to consider that not all children will want to openly discuss how they feel or focus on how their condition makes them different. Don’t force these conversations.
Make them Feel Normal
Though “normal” is completely subjective, young children will want to feel like the “normal” kids. Whenever possible, draw attention away from the condition itself. Help them find therapy exercises they can do that the other children do in regular physical education classes. Make the therapy sessions fun for the children however you can.
Being a school physical therapist can be a rewarding career, but it can be equally difficult to help children handle their physical handicaps in the educational setting. What advice do you have to share with other school therapists so they can help their students?