Pediatric Therapy

By Margaret Schmidt

 Speech-language pathologist Stacy Leidholt uses iPads during a therapy session. Speech-language pathologist Stacy Leidholt uses iPads during a therapy session.


Although the majority of RehabCare’s patients are adults, RehabCare has experience and can offer pediatric rehabilitation at any of our facilities. One of RehabCare’s sites, Therapy Connections for Kids, has been providing pediatric rehabilitation for 19 years. Located in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, Therapy Connections for Kids offers occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology services for children. Beth Sorenson, program assistant at Therapy Connections for Kids, described developmental complications that are unique to children and how pediatric therapy is different from adult rehabilitation.

The disorders pediatric therapists come across range in severity, and the staff at Therapy Connections for Kids is trained to treat children for a wide range of behavioral and physical conditions. Therapy Connections for Kids most commonly sees children for autism, Asperger’s, ADD/ADHD, articulation disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, developmental delay, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, fine and gross motor delay and sensory processing disorder. Since opening its doors in 1994, Therapy Connections for Kids has also treated kids with Angelman Syndrome, Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, Wiedemann-Rautenstrauch (WR) Syndrome, Down Syndrome and brain injury.

Therapy Connections for Kids often sees children whose motor, language and/or emotional skills are not developing at a regular pace, a condition known as developmental delay. Developmental delays such as autism spectrum disorders may present themselves within months or several years after a child is born and are considered lifelong conditions. “We generally see that all activities of daily living are affected,” said speech-language pathologist Amy Bergsbaken. Therapists develop individualized treatment plans that may consist of neurodevelopmental treatment, oral motor facilitation, functional communication skills, self-care skills and behavioral management.

Along with treating developmental delays, people are often surprised to learn that pediatric therapists can help kids with feeding disorders. Occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists at Therapy Connections for Kids collaborate to treat children with food aversions. Therapists approach feeding disorders from a sensory side and introduce new foods by associating them with the colors, shapes and textures the child prefers. They also motivate kids to face their food fears by engaging them in messy play and other tactile activities.

Uncovering what motivates a patient is a common denominator of therapy regardless of the patient’s age, but inspiring children to cooperate and want to succeed requires special understanding. (Imagine a child who refuses fruits and vegetables, for instance.) Therapy sessions must be fun and comfortable. Therapy Connections for Kids has a sensory gym with a trampoline, ball pit, water table, scooterboards and swings, and offering gym time is usually enough to motivate “even the toughest kiddo,” said Sorenson. Therapists incorporate games and activities into treatment to make children feel at ease. “We go to great lengths to make each child feel comfortable and supported,” said Sorenson. To calm possible anxiety, parents are invited into therapy sessions.

In pediatric therapy, parents play an instrumental role from start to finish. Compared to patients in a skilled nursing facility or inpatient rehabilitation facility, children who visit Therapy Connections for Kids are not in-house, and parents must commute with their kids often more than once a week for as long as therapy is needed. “Without parents’ support and belief in what we do, we would not be here,” said Sorenson. “We commend our parents for their dedication to their children.”

Therapy ends with “graduation” from the program once a child achieves his or her goals, scores within 1.5 standard deviations below the mean on standardized assessment or stops making progress. Therapy Connections for Kids implements home programming and caregiver training to ensure that graduates continue to benefit from therapy long after they leave.

Thank you to Megan Appelwick, OTR/L; Amy Bergsbaken, MA, CCC-SLP; Stacy Leidholt, MA, CCC-SLP; Alicia Marten, OTR/L; Beth Sorenson, program assistant and Mary Jo Theis, COTA for contributing to this article.

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Therapy Connections for Kids entrance Therapists use games and toys to make therapy fun for patients. The gym at Therapy Connections for Kids has swings, crash pillows, slides and a ball pit.

By Margaret Schmidt