Interview with early intervention Physical Therapist, Dr. Durie O, PT, DPT
Childhood is a crucial time for development and early intervention can make all the difference in setting kids up for success, which is why Meems sat down with an experienced early intervention physical therapist, Dr. Durie O PT, DPT. With years of experience working with children from birth to early teens, Dr. Durie O brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table. We discussed the importance of movement and physical development, as well as tips for parents looking to support their children’s growth and development.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be an early intervention Physical Therapist?
During my freshman year of college, I decided to pursue a clinical career. It felt tangible to me to work with muscles and gross motor skills. I attended the University of Vermont for my Doctorate of Physical Therapy and had the opportunity to do my clinical internship with Lee-Ann Britain Infant Development Center. It was during this experience that I realized my passion for working with children. Because childhood is such a critical stage of physical, social, and emotional development, you can have a tremendous impact on a child’s life and wellness. It is rewarding to see how your work can shape a person’s future. Also, in physical therapy (PT) you can work with children for a lot longer, for years sometimes, and that allows you to build long-standing relationships with clients, which is very different from working with adults.
When should parents seek the help of a physical therapist? What are some signs to look out for/watch?
The CDC has a very informative app that is regularly updated and offers parents a good indication of whether their child is on the right track developmentally. Parents are able to see what milestones correlate to age and get a general sense of what their children should be able to do at a given stage. Being a little behind is okay, but parents should continue to monitor their child’s development to know if they are hitting milestones within close range to what the CDC suggests. The app can also help inform parents of any potential issues sooner and allow them to get the necessary help they might need. Early intervention is crucial and can help correct any delays. A general rule is if your child is 25% delayed or more, it is time to get assessed or speak with your healthcare provider. Also, if you suspect your child is doing something that doesn’t seem right and your gut is telling you something is off, there is nothing wrong with getting an assessment. Every state across the country offers an Early Intervention Program where children can get evaluated and get into the program for regular support if any issues are found.
What are some common motor milestones for infants and young children, and what are some ways we can help children meet those milestones?
Again, parents should educate themselves using the CDC app on the milestones so they can be aware of how to best support their child. Here is general overview of the milestones based on age:
- 3 Months: rolling over
- 6 Months: sitting independently
- 9 Months: standing independently
- 12 Months: walking while holding furniture
- 18 Months: walking unsupported
How can we support a child’s physical development through play, exercise, and other activities?
The biggest thing you can do to help your child reach a milestone is to get them moving. For example, if they’re 13 months old and not walking with support, create games that involve standing and moving to show them how to do it. Creating games and fun activities to support each milestone and doing it daily can be the little extra help that your child needs. Consistency is key, so try to make the activity a part of your daily routine. If you’re worried that your child is falling behind, it is important to incorporate additional support into their routine as well.
What are some strategies for managing any physical challenges a child may have, such as limited mobility, balance issues, or weakness?
Limited mobility: This is a red flag. If your child is unable to move or is not moving around a lot, a parent should consider getting an assessment right away. Babies are always moving, so if your baby is more stationary, it is important to take immediate action.
Balance: Physical therapists often create obstacle courses to challenge and improve a child's ability to balance. For example, you can place cushions haphazardly on the floor and have them try to maintain their balance while walking on top of the cushions. You can also use the space around you to make things more difficult like placing tape down on your kitchen floor and having your child walk it without stepping off. For stationary games, you can make the support base smaller by having them stand on one foot or on their tiptoes, close their eyes, and balance for a few seconds without falling.
Weakness: Parents can help build strength through exposure, like tummy time for neck control. For one-year-old babies, there are a few exercises you can try, like having them step up to higher surfaces using the stairs and holding onto the banister for support. Another exercise is to place toys on the ground and a bucket on a chair; have your child squat down to pick up the toy and reach up high to drop it in the bucket. This exercise can help build strength in their legs and core muscles.
How can we support our child’s transition to new physical milestones, like crawling to walking to running?
When working on mobility, balance, and strength exercises with babies, it is important to consider the transitional steps in-between. You should always start with total support and gradually reduce the amount of support you give. Test how far they can do the exercise on their own while still maintaining proper form and safety. This approach helps them build confidence and gradually develop their own abilities.
Rolling to crawling: it is important to put your baby in the position you want them to be in and expose them to the feeling of crawling. Even if you need to provide 100% support at first, this type of exposure will help them get more comfortable. Additionally, incorporate plenty of tummy time to strengthen their hands and knees.
Crawling to walking: Offer minimal support to constantly encourage them to push a little harder to meet the milestone. You can start with using furniture for support to pull themselves up to standing position. Next, practice crawling to a stand: with straight arms and legs on the ground (this looks like a tent: with hands and feet on the ground and their bottom in the air), walk their feet to their hands, and pull themselves up straight from that position. Parents often love to support their kids with standing from a young age, which helps build strength and familiarity with the feeling.
Walking to running: This will happen naturally if there aren’t any problems.
It’s not necessary to compare your child to others, but being aware of developmental milestones can empower parents to take action when necessary. It’s always better to get evaluated if you have the slightest concern. Parents have support through really good government programs, such as Early Intervention implemented by the Department of Education, and should leverage these programs to ensure their children are on the right track. Remember, knowledge is power, and making sure you are educated on the milestones can help you best support your child’s growth.