On March 20th, I provided early intervention physical therapy services virtually for the first time. Even though we were in lockdown, pediatric clients still required therapy. Premature babies came home from the NICU. Parents awaited their toddler’s first steps. Pediatricians diagnosed babies with torticollis. I found myself facing a daunting task — helping infants and toddlers achieve gross motor milestones through a computer screen. In practice, I found that the pandemic was actually a catalyst for family engagement during therapy sessions.
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Pediatric physical therapists are used to working closely with their clients, both physically and emotionally. I sit in living rooms and listen to parents’ fears about their children’s futures: “Why can’t she crawl yet?”…“What can I do about the flat spot on his head?”… “Do you think she needs orthotics?” Providing answers to difficult questions is hard even when I can provide hands on assessment and intervention.
I still had my skills of clinical observation and critical thinking. I learned that an egg crate makes an excellent phone prop when you need both hands free to hold a wiggly baby. I started demonstrating activities with a teddy bear while parents followed along at home with their children. We were able to work as a team to prioritize motor development in the midst of a pandemic.
I watched parents grow empowered as they saw that their own hands could be therapeutic. A main tenet of clinical practice in early intervention is the use of the coaching model to teach families how to complete activities on their own outside of physical therapy sessions. When I was present in the homes, it was as tempting for me to provide the interventions myself as it was for a parent to take the time to go finish laundry or attend to a sibling.
In eight months of telehealth therapy, I have evaluated, treated, and discharged children without ever meeting them in person. It is certainly true that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we treat clients but it will not prevent us from helping them live, learn, work, and play.