For many children with genetic disorders which cause learning disabilities and severe physical disabilities therapy IS their education. Whatever the level of your child’s needs, if the right therapies are in place they will enable your child to access classes so much better and enhance their lives in general.
Therapies can include Speech and Language, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy. But also less traditional subjects like Movement and Drama, Hydrotherapy, Yoga and even Lego Therapy.
For pre-school children it might be the health visitor, GP or consultant who refers to these specialists. It is always best to start therapy provision as early as possible in your child’s life.
At mainstream primary or secondary school you might be able to access them through the Special Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO). If your child attends a special needs therapies are often part of their education package and delivered on-site. It may be that your local health provider organises sessions outside of school.
All therapists should work with teachers and parents explaining the programmes they put in place so that everyone can work on them whether at home or in the classroom. Quite often the therapist will see a child at set intervals – perhaps once every half term – but then show teaching assistants and parent/carers how to carry out the programme every day.
It is important that the programmes are regularly reviewed together with parents and carers to make sure they are still relevant to your child.
If your local authority is good it will already have carried out an Assessment of Needs (LINK) to see what extra support your child requires. This might include therapies.
Or your paediatrician or GP might have referred you to services such as physiotherapy as soon as your child was diagnosed.
If that hasn’t happened and you feel your child would benefit from therapies ask your GP what is available. If you know of other parents with disabled children in your area, ask what their child receives in terms of therapy and how that was organised.
If you haven’t already had an Assessment of Needs carried out by your local authority, ask for that to be done. You can find out how here: LINK
If you are at the EHCP stage it is crucial to agree which therapies your child requires to thrive, what level of therapist should provide that, and how regularly. In some areas of the country there is a shortage of therapists so you might find providers trying to limit how many hours your child receives. Remember the EHCP should be based on what your child needs to thrive, not what it is possible to provide. Similarly wording like “access to therapy” is not sufficiently detailed. LINK TO EHCP
WHAT THERAPIES ARE AVAILABLE?
This is a programme of education for pre-school children with special educational needs. It is named after the town in America where it was first implemented.
It is aimed at teaching through play and breaking down barriers a disability might cause. The way it is delivered varies between local authorities, it might be home visits or group sessions. The latter are a great way to meet other parents of disabled children.
Find out more here: www.portage.org.uk/about/what-portage
Speech And Language Therapy
Trained therapists assess your child’s communication needs and put a programme in place. That might include learning Makaton Sign Language (signing for children and people with learning disabilities). Or it could mean using a system of picture symbols a child can choose to communicate. Or there might be technological help for your child such as an eye gaze machine or proxy speakers.
SLTs also provide help with feeding and swallowing, known as dysphagia. They can suggest suitable preparation of food and what utensils to use for safe eating, they will also recommend one to one care during lunchtimes at school for example if your child is at risk of choking.
Physiotherapists (or physios) will assess a child’s strength and coordination, motor development, posture and balance, quality of movement and function. They will provide a programme aimed at improving your child’s ability in these areas.
This might mean specialist equipment such as a standing frame to encourage weight bearing and therefore bone strength. Sometimes a child will require appliances like leg splints (AFOs) to stretch muscles. They might mean a programme of stretching that is taught to teaching assistants and parents to carry out at school and home. Special swimming can help with a child’s movement and confidence.
Occupational therapists (OTs) provide help with day to day tasks. They look at what individuals find difficult and work out ways to make them easier, making them as independent as they can. Self-care or activities of daily living (brushing teeth, buttoning clothes, using eating utensils).
For example helping with hand-eye coordination, developing fine motor skills like gripping a pencil, gross motor skills like sitting upright in lessons, coping with sensory issues like aversion to loud noises or needing oral stimulation.
OTs might also help with equipment or adaptations in the home – steps that enable access, ramps, bathing equipment and hoists can all increase access.
This is an advanced form of physiotherapy carried out by physios or specialist swimming instructors. It takes place in a swimming pool and makes use of the buoyancy, heat and resistance of water to help bring about a number of therapeutic effects. It can be a fun and engaging environment to help stimulate your child’s recovery. Your child does not necessarily need to be able to swim.
This is delivered by professionals using music to support psychological, emotional, learning, communication, physical and social needs. It can be joyful, calming or social depending on your child’s needs.
Trampolining as a therapeutic movement activity aims to improve core strength, balance, and muscle tone.
Dance Movement Psychotherapy
DMP recognises body movement as a means of communication and expression. Children and trained therapists work together using body movement. DMP supports children and young people to explore ways of expressing themselves both verbally and non-verbally in a safe and contained environment.
This is a practice used by occupational therapists and SLTs using good, old-fashioned building bricks to encourage verbal skills, teamwork and fine motor skills., Building with Lego bricks is a multi-sensory and open-ended. Building projects can be tailored to any person’s unique needs, such as visual impairment, deafness, mobility impairment, autism or ADHD.