A prescription for physical, occupational, or speech therapy is like a prescription for antibiotics—you can have it filled wherever you choose. Unlike a medication, however, the therapist you choose will have an ongoing relationship with you and your child that your child may benefit from for years to come. You should choose carefully. Interview therapists and assess therapeutic settings to determine what will be the best fit for your whole family, as well as for your child.
Communication is key
One of the most important qualities to look for in a therapist is their ability to communicate. So much of good pediatric therapy involves educating family members and caregivers and sharing information between health care providers who all have your child’s best needs in mind. You should interview the therapist to be sure that their communication skills with you are good, that there is time in their schedule for conferencing with your team, and for demonstrating home programs or techniques. Is language a barrier? Are translators available, if needed? Does your child’s doctor have a good relationship with the therapist? These are all important things to consider when choosing a therapist.
Do they have experience with your child’s diagnosis?
During the interview, you should tell the therapist about your child. Your therapist should have expertise and be comfortable with your child’s diagnosis. Some diagnoses are rare, and you will want to choose someone who has experience and confidence with your child’s diagnosis. The therapist should be able to describe for you what their therapy session might look like so that you can try to picture your child in that setting. Are they open to consulting with other therapists if you ask? Do they have mentors available who have expertise in niche areas? Consider how your child learns best. What motivates him or her? Will your therapist be able to tap into those motivators in their current therapy setting? These things should all be considered when choosing a therapist as well as when choosing a therapy setting.
Are you comfortable with the clinic?
If you are considering going to an outpatient therapy clinic, visit the clinic first. Is it clean? Do the therapists look happy to be there and not pressed for time? Do you and your child get a good feeling when you walk in? You may be there frequently, so your comfort level as well as your child’s is very important. Is the waiting room kid-friendly? How about for siblings who may have to wait? Do they have appointments available when you will need them? Is the office staff helpful? Is there a lengthy wait-list to begin therapy? Do bright lights or sounds irritate your child? Does he enjoy the social interaction of a therapy gym, or would he do better in his own familiar setting? You will be able to tell if it is a good match after the first few visits, if not right away.
Have you met the at-home therapist?
If you are considering home-based therapy, ask to speak with the therapist who might be working with your child. This individual will be coming out to your home or to your child’s day care or school and interacting with the other members of your family and team. Interview them as you would a clinic-based therapist. Do you get a good feeling from them? Can they describe for you what one of their therapy sessions would look like? Are they reliable? Do they have references? How about their schedule and flexibility? Do they feel they can motivate your child within his familiar surroundings? Is enabling your child to access his own home or neighborhood for independent exploration one of your goals? Is your child medically fragile or difficult to transport to outpatient visits? Would a therapist coming to you best fit the lifestyle of your family? Every child is different and what works best for them may change over time. Ask if the therapist is open to treating your child in a variety of settings.
Trust your instincts
Choosing your child’s therapist is one of the most important decisions you can make for him or her. There are many talented therapists out there, but will your therapist have the freedom to work with your child using his talents to the fullest? Will your child be motivated to push himself by the skills your therapist possesses? Good communication, good listening skills, a supportive physical environment, and good rapport with your child are critical components to forming a successful therapeutic relationship. Take the time to explore, interview, and trust your instincts. Exercise your right to take your prescription wherever you choose, and know that you have many options.
About Doug Levine
Doug Levine is a pediatric physical therapist and owner of Growing Places Therapy in Austin, TX. Though originally from New York, made it to Texas as fast as he could. He graduated from the University of Texas with Honors in 1994, and completed his Master of Science degree in Physical Therapy at Texas Woman’s University in Houston in 1997. Doug has worked in various settings as a traveling therapist, but found his niche and true love in pediatric therapy where he has spent most of his career. Doug’s special interests and skills include wheelchair seating for maximum functionality and making therapy fun for kids. He loves to hike, camp, climb things, run, and bike, and is up for any physical challenge. Fortunately, his enthusiasm and confidence often bring out the same in others. He and his wife, Stephanie, also a physical therapist, live in Austin with their three children, two dogs, and turtle.