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PT Diaries: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My First Pediatric PT Job  

Jan 27th, 2021 | by Shuyi Wang, PT, DPT

Shuyi Wang, PT, DPT

January 27th, 2021

1. A Child’s Job Is to Play 

I knew this one before, but it has taken on a new meaning for me since becoming a pediatric PT. Children learn and grow through play, and therapy is no exception to that. Performing exercises in the context of play-oriented tasks helps form and strengthen the brain connections for functional gains. One of my biggest challenges, when I started in the pediatric field, was to come up with games where my therapy exercises could fit in — “Johnny, stand up from captain’s pose and knock on the door with the ball to find Princess Poppy in her house.”

I’m learning everyday how to be better at playing. Luckily, my kiddos are wonderful teachers in that department.   

2. Words Are Powerful. And Sometimes, Less Is More.  

Communication looks very different when your patient is a 2-year-old. It didn’t take long until I had to quit my habit of over-explaining an exercise. Working with children starts with meeting them where they are. If a kiddo only uses one word meaningfully (for example, “more”), try to use only 2-3 words meaningfully (“more ball”, “one more walking”) to ensure understanding and to model better use of expressive language 

3. Teach the Parents Too 

When treating adults, a home exercise program (HEP) consists of 3-5 exercises with pictures and instructions. However, HEP looks very different when working with kids because they usually need mom and dad to help. Therefore, it’s my job to help parents figure out how to fit PT exercises into their crazy busy lives, from practicing crawling on couch cushions to pushing their little brother in the laundry basket. And thanks to the Telehealth sessions, I got to witness some brilliant at-home activities and very professional handling techniques. Well done, mom and dad! 

4. There Are Things That I Don’t Know, and That’s Okay  

The more experience I get the more I’m constantly reminded of how much I don’t know – new genetic disorders that haven’t really been studied, the best intervention for kids with sensory overload, and how to fight for my patients to get walker/wheelchair / or more therapy services that they need. But that’s okay because I have a great community to learn from. I work with supportive colleagues who are always willing to lend me a brain and wonderful families who never shy away from sharing their journey.   

5. I’m a Developmental Therapist First 

Lines between disciplines (physical, occupational, speech, nutrition, etc.) are murky in pediatrics. Many factors can affect a child’s ability to participate in daily life. With the help of my team, I’m able to recognize when a child exhibits deficits in areas other than physical abilities and incorporate appropriate strategies in my sessions. While your child is doing hard PT work, also want them to take turns playing and communicate their need to take a break in a functional manner.

All disciplines focus on a child gaining the skills required to perform everyday functions to the best of their ability.

As a pediatric PT, I must look at all aspects of child development and try to understand all the factors at play. 

Additional Resources

About the Author

Shuyi, PT, DPT joined NAPA LA in the crazy year of 2020. She earned her Doctorate in physical therapy from Virginia Commonwealth University and moved across the country to start her career as a pediatric physical therapist. Growing up as an only child, Shuyi loves the opportunity to play with children all day as her full-time job! 

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

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