The American Physical Therapy Association notes that the preferred route to becoming a physical therapist is through a doctor of physical therapy program. Although a doctoral program provides the courses for practitioners in multiple areas of PT, some schools also offer specialized classes that teach students how to work with children.
Pediatric PT Basics
According to the APTA section on pediatrics, pediatric physical therapists help children to maximize their physical potential and function independently. While working as a PT with children involves practicing some of the same physical principles that an adult-oriented professional would, pediatric physical therapists must also understand child development, the growing anatomy of and issues that are specific to children from birth through the teen years. For example, a preschool-aged child who is struggling with mobility issues will need specialized techniques to get moving based on his developmental level. School programs that train pediatric PTs include content in understanding children and their development in terms of promoting positive physical outcomes.
Similar to any other doctor of physical therapy program, pediatric specialists must take both classroom-based and clinical courses. According to the APTA, a DPT curriculum includes three years of classes in content areas such as biology, anatomy, cellular histology, physiology, kinesiology, pathology, pharmacology, biomechanics and behavioral sciences. The APTA notes that 80 percent of a DPT school program curriculum includes classroom coursework with an additional 20 percent of coursework done in clinical practicals. A pediatric specialization program may include the traditional in-class components along with a child-focused clinical experience.
Before becoming a working PT, pediatric professional students will need to build their skills through practical, hands-on internship experiences. For example, the University of Delaware's PT program offers a practical experience in the school's pediatric clinical rehabilitation services center. Located in the university's Early Learning Center, the Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic provides PT students with the chances to practice their clinical skills under the supervision of certified professionals and professors.
Some PT programs offer a full residency in pediatrics. This specialized clinical experience provides additional training for students who want to work in physical therapy environments with children. For example, the University of Central Arkansas offers a 12-month residency program in pediatrics through the Arkansas Children's Hospital or the Allied Therapy and Consulting Services. Students receive supervision, guidance and mentorship from certified pediatric specialist PTs. Likewise, the University of Colorado also offers a pediatric physical therapy residency. This program is for licensed physical therapists who want to receive specialized training in pediatrics.
- American Physical Therapy Association: Physical Therapist (PT) Education Overview
- American Physical Therapy Association, Section on Pediatrics: Fact Sheet, The ABCs of Pediatric Physical Therapy
- University of Delaware: Pediatric Clinical Rehabilitation Services
- University of Central Arkansas: UCA Pediatric Physical Therapy Residency Program
- University of Colorado: Pediatric Physical Therapy Residency Program
Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.