I’ve had my heart stuck on pediatric physical therapy for quite some time now. Initially I enjoyed the idea of working with kids when my sister Melanie started going to PT in the early stages of her CRPS diagnosis. Her physical therapist focused her treatment on getting her to walk again and being able to build up a tolerance to some touch to her left leg by desensitization exercises. What intrigued me so much about this was that Melanie was 10 years old and she genuinely enjoyed going to therapy! Her therapist went above and beyond to find fun and creative ways to make her exercises something she wanted to participate in, this was truly special because Melanie went to an outpatient orthopedic therapy clinic and pediatric patients were not the typical patient her therapist saw.
If I fast forward a few years to when I began working at Ability Plus Therapy, a privately owned pediatric therapy clinic, as a rehab tech following graduation from FIU, that’s where I got hooked! This clinic is something special and it is filled with a variety of therapists who love what they do which put me in the position of starting to picture myself as a pediatric PT. I learned an incredible amount there about physical, occupational, and speech therapy as well as a variety of diagnoses and adaptive equipment. But more importantly, I discovered the reasons that solidified that I was going to pursue pediatric physical therapy with all I had in me.
I learned how to truly appreciate and enjoy the simple things
Often pediatric patients who need therapy are receiving care for an extended period of time due to a diagnosis they were born with or a life-changing accident. (Yes, there are children who undergo surgery or break a bone and go to PT but I personally am more interested in neurological pediatric PT.) So, with these children typically comes a sad story or a tough road ahead but the beautiful things is that a lot of times you could never tell! These kids come to therapy wanting to play and as a pediatric therapist a big part of your job is to disguise exercise as a game. In the beginning, I was so awestruck at how these kids would do such hard work in order to just simply pick up a stuffed animal and throw it into a basket. Then it clicked, these are still kids! Kids love to play and without even realizing it they have the ability to focus on the tiniest amount of fun in something and block out the pain. Working with a kiddo who is determined to have fun makes the job of the PT easy, and so rewarding!
I admired the children’s everlasting ability to see only the great in themselves
If I had to choose one of the five of the thousands of reasons I love pediatric PT, this one would be it! Again, these are kids and they are still so full of innocence and joy. Children with different abilities truly see themselves as superheroes and I think we could all benefit from seeing ourselves as superheroes from time to time. When you watch these children interact with other children with and without different abilities you see genuine fun and friendship. It doesn’t matter if the kid is in a wheelchair, has a walker, or has a set of braces on that makes them “different” from other kids. These kids see don’t see any of these things as negatives or setbacks, it’s just part of them. A beautiful part of them!
The families shaped my heart
When you work in pediatrics you are not just focused on the child but also their entire family! I met some incredible families while I worked at Ability Plus Therapy and I’m still friends with some of the parents. The parents of these children all deserve special awards for all of the sacrifices that they make to ensure their children have all of their medical needs met, have fun and enjoy life, and are loved beyond measure. One family in particular that has truly left their mark on me was dealt a very unfortunate set of cards that made devastating changes to their family and left their child needing lots of therapy really sticks out in my mind when writing this. This family has every reason in the world to complain and be angry but they are the most joyful and positive (and hilarious) family I’ve ever known. The way these parents are raising their children to see the good in everyone and everything is remarkable and I hope I can have a family as amazing as theirs when I start my own.
I found excitement in the ways I could utilize my creative side
Growing up I loved arts and crafts, imaginary play, and making extreme forts and obstacle courses. Who knew that physical therapy would allow me to continue to do all of these things and get paid to do it? I love that pediatric PT has the reputation of being fun, the more your patient enjoys participating in the games you chose, the more effective your treatment sessions are. The cool thing about physical therapy is that things kids enjoy going anyway can be included in their therapeutic goals such as riding a bike, jumping, running, or climbing. As we help the child progress, we also help them gain the ability to play and the more confidence a child has with how well they can jump or run the more apt they will be to intermingle themselves with other kids. Now these kids have the opportunity to show off their different abilities!
I treasured that the littlest leaps of progress made huge differences
As a rehab tech, I saw these kids being treated two or three times a week every week. Sometimes when you’re so close to something you don’t see the full picture. The small steps of progress really do start to add up and it wasn’t until I started PT school and started going back to visit with months in between that I really saw how the small steps added up to big improvements! Especially with younger patients, pediatric PTs have room to help children grow into their full potential and even when it may appear as if you’ve hit a plateau sometimes you just need to step back in amazement of what that child is capable of
More times than I can count I have been told that I’ll change my mind a million times throughout PT school but as a third-year student about to embark on my final clinical rotations I can genuinely say my thoughts weren’t swayed for a second!
So, it’s set in stone, one day I’ll be Alyssa Dickens, PT, DPT, Board Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist