Doctorate in Physical Therapy Student and Community Collaboration to Enhance Fitness in Children with Disabilities
Purpose: Pediatric physical therapists (PTs) have a critical role in promoting participation and enhancing fitness for their patients and clients to increase health and socialization with their families, communities, schools and peers. Children with disabilities are often more sedentary, involved in fewer social activities, and move less compared to age-matched peers. This places them at higher risk for other health conditions and results in a more inactive lifestyle and less socialization. A limited number of specialized and adaptive community-based fitness programs for children with disabilities exist, and are often limited by accessible space, transportation, cost, and training of community staff to work safely with children with disabilities. Physical therapists have the expertise to advise and collaborate with children with disabilities, their families, schools, community members and local organizations on how to adapt, modify or create individualized programs to promote fitness, health and wellness. Community organizations have the expertise to develop camp programs, hire staff and provide scholarship opportunities for children to participate, but are often lacking training on how to work with children with disabilities or inclusive ideas on ways to promote fitness into their camps. Doctorate in physical therapy programs and students are well situated to form partnerships and collaborate with community organizations to promote health, wellness and fitness for members of their local communities. The purpose of this abstract is to describe a successful collaboration between an academic physical therapy program and their local parks and recreation organization to create a sustainable inclusive, community-based fitness class for children & adolescents with disabilities. Methods/Description: An advanced pediatric elective course was designed as part of the University of Washington Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) program, with a focus on promoting health, wellness and fitness across the lifespan for children & adolescents with disabilities. Seattle Parks & Recreation offers a Specialized Summer Day Camp program, a low-cost day camp for youth with disabilities in a local park, and provides inclusion training to their staff and counselors. For the elective course, Seattle Parks & Recreation partnered with the UW DPT faculty member and students to create and implement fitness classes as part of their specialized summer day-camp. Under direct supervision of licensed pediatric physical therapists, 2nd year DPT students researched, designed, and implemented 2- 45 minute evidence-based inclusive fitness classes for children ages 4-21 years with disabilities. The fitness groups were comprised of groups of 8-10 children, divided based on age and gender, and included children with a wide range of ability levels. DPT students provided direct training to Seattle Parks & Recreation counselors during the classes, and designed handouts with the most successful activities and ways to modify the activities for counselors to implement during other weeks of summer camp to enhance carry over of safe & inclusive activities for children and adolescents with disabilities. Results/Outcomes: Surveys were given to Seattle Parks & Recreation staff and children who participated in the fitness groups at the end of each of the 2 days. Nineteen participants, 14 Seattle Parks and Recreation counselors, 2 supervisors, and 3 campers, filled out the survey and results were averaged across the 2 fitness classes. On a scale of 0-10 (Completely Disagree to Completely Agree), they felt like the fitness groups were fun (8.7), inclusive (8.1), organized (8.9), easy to repeat (9.2), and facilitated social interactions (9.3), with staff and children wanting to collaborate again (8.8/10). The overall experience was “extremely positive” (8.9/10). Suggestions were provided on positive aspects of and ways to improve the fitness groups, which will be integrated into subsequent years of the advanced pediatric elective course. Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Physical therapists have an important role in promoting health, wellness and fitness for all of their patients but especially for children across their lifespan. Physical therapists are knowledgeable about how to make fitness activities inclusive and modify them based on individual factors including safety, health, age, and ability. Partnership and collaboration between a Doctorate in Physical Therapy Program and local community organization’s summer camp program is an innovative, feasible, fun, and effective method to teach physical therapy students leadership & critical thinking skills, and bridge the gap between evidence and clinical practice to promote health, wellness and fitness for children with disabilities while also educating DPT students.