What to Expect: Your Child’s First Physical Therapy Appointment

The physical therapy gym is designed to help children build strength, balance, coordination, and endurance.

You’ve received a referral from your doctor, filled out all the forms, and scheduled your first appointment at the therapy office. Everything’s all set, but you may be a little nervous because you don’t know exactly what to expect. You’ve probably seen adults receiving therapy in movies – you may have even done it yourself at some point following an injury – but a little voice inside your head wonders how it’s going to work for your small child that may not “get” why therapy is valuable. In this first-in-a-series post, physical therapist Toula McCarty talks about what to expect in that first physical therapy appointment.


The first thing the therapist will do is pick your brain a little bit. You will discuss your child’s developmental history, so be sure to bring notes with you about developmental milestones such as sitting up, crawling, walking, etc., and at what age your child reached them. The therapist will also want to discuss what concerns you have – bring notes about these, as well, if it helps you to organize your thoughts. Information about your child’s history and your concerns help the therapist customize your child’s treatment plan.

Once your brain has been “picked”, the therapist will observe your child doing things such as playing with toys, standing, sitting, moving, and making transitions between activities. Be sure to dress your child in comfortable clothing that is conducive to movement, and bring any special equipment your child uses. Although this portion of the appointment is structured, it will seem like play for the child. The therapist will use assessments that measure your child against what is typical for peers of the same age and make projections about what you can expect your child to achieve through physical therapy.

While the therapist is observing your child, watch both the therapist and your child, because it gives you the opportunity to see how well they interact. Often, a stronger connection between the therapist and child leads to better results, which makes sense: a child who is having fun tends to forget how hard they are working!

After the therapist has had a chance to observe your child, you will work together to come up with a treatment program for your child. It’s typical to reassess a child’s abilities and review progress every six months, but the important thing is for both you and your child’s therapist to consistently be on the same page about your child’s goals and how to reach them.

For the first appointment, you’ll stay with your child the whole time, but that may not be the case going forward. Many parents find that their children work better if they are not in the room during the therapy session! Ideally, a child happily goes back for “play time” with a familiar, fun person who has lots of different toys (without even a look back) while you have a few minutes to relax, but it will depend on both your child’s temperament and the rapport they develop with the therapist.

Most importantly, relax! We’re here not only to help your child, but to support YOU in helping your child reaches his or her goals.

Toula McCarty, Physical Therapist

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