How can students assess posture and balance if their patients are too young to follow directions? That was the challenge the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) students were faced with at the infant/toddler labs held earlier this spring. The lab was coordinated by Preeti D. Oza, PT, PhD, NCS, assistant professor of physical therapy. “Students do basic assessment of posture, mobility and balance demonstrated by the infant or toddler during play in sitting, standing and walking,” said Dr. Oza.
“The purpose of the infant/toddler lab is to observe the different developmental milestones of postural control in infants and toddlers of varying ages,” said Melody Mandell ’17. “Unlike adult patients who can follow commands to raise their arms or walk on their toes, infants and toddlers cannot follow these commands. We play with the kids to get them to move in different ways so that we can assess their level of postural control. For example, we observe how they walk on firm ground, then get them to walk on a soft mat to see how they adjust and how well they are able to balance. We can also have the child reach overhead for a toy to observe the range of motion in their shoulders. For the infants who are not yet standing, we place toys around them within reach and observe how they turn their bodies and shift their weight to reach for the toys.”
Samantha Moore ’17 discovered that working with young children requires creative strategies. “We wanted to see what they were capable of doing and the best way to do that is to make it a game,” said Moore. “By doing this we were able to look at balance, range of motion and postural correction strategies.”
In order for a physical therapist to be able to provide optimal care, it is essential to gain the trust of both the parent and the child. Mandell explains, “As a student physical therapist I may know more about developmental milestones, but the parent is the expert on his or her child. Showing that respect while working with the child helps to gain the parent’s trust. Gaining the child’s trust involves allowing time for the child to warm up to me and the environment and making sure the child knows that the parent is always nearby.”
Moore believes that the experience of working with young children gives DPT students a strong foundation to build an understanding of core concepts. She explains, “It is important that we get the opportunity to work with children because it allows us to see and understand how posture develops. Plus, while working with these children it keeps us thinking on our feet and thinking creatively.” Mandell adds, “We learn so much in class about these developmental milestones, what to look for and how to perform certain tests, but none of that is valuable without the hands-on experience to go with it. Working with a child who is energetic and distracted, or shy and crying, adds another level of skill on top of what we learn in class. I am so thankful that we get to experience that now as students instead of being thrown into it for the first time in the clinic!”
The lab gave students the opportunity to practice the skills they had learned and acquire new skills. Mandell shares, “This lab gave me the opportunity to practice being creative in finding ways to get the kids to perform the movements I needed to observe. It also allowed me to practice making quick observations and remembering them until the end of the session when I can write them down. It also helped solidify the milestones of development by being able to see them in action.”
For Moore, one of the key take-aways was the value of patience. She elaborates, “I largely learned about patience while working with these amazing children. Even though we were having fun, we had to make sure we gathered all the data we were looking for. I was also able to work on thinking on my feet and changing tasks quickly to keep up with our patients. It was invaluable to get the opportunity to work with these kids and see the different developmental stages.” Dr. Oza is grateful to the parents who made it possible for students to gain this hands-on experience. She shares, “We thank our cute volunteers, without whom the students would not get this great learning opportunity.”
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold