3 Characteristics To Look For In Your Child’s Physical Therapist

It’s hard to believe we have been taking Noah to some sort of developmental therapy appointment since he was just three weeks old.

In that short 8 months (it’s also hard to believe our little boy will turn 9 months old this month!) we’ve met some great, and some not-so-great therapists. Noah now goes to physical therapy twice a week, and occupational therapy once, thankfully we couldn’t be happier with the therapists involved in his life now!

boy with down syndrome on a swing at physical therapy

Noah is a huge fan of the swing!

Just Who Is That Mystery Woman?

If you have been following our son’s story you’ve no doubt become very familiar with the woman in today’s video; Diane, Noah’s physical therapist.  She’s great  No, like really great!

If you looking for a great physical (or occupational) therapist in the Dallas area, I can’t say enough good things about Our Children’s House at Baylor.  They have several locations in the metroplex, accept lots of different insurance, and are great to work with!

Boy looking at therapist at our childrens house at baylor

Noah really like his physical therpist!

If you aren’t in the Dallas area don’t worry, you don’t have to pack up your bags and move to the Lone Star State in order to find a great pediatric therapist.  Chances are there’s one in your own backyard, you just have to know what to look for.

3 Reasons We Love Our Son’s Physical Therapist (And What You Should Look For In Yours)

  1. She is encouraging.  From the first day we met Diana she’s been one of Noah’s biggest fans.  No matter how well (or not so well) he did during his appointment we end up leaving feeling like Noah is the smartest, strongest, most capable little boy to ever have been born with Down syndrome!   You don’t really get a chance to hear our therapists talking in these videos, but if you did you’d think Noah had created the iPhone the way she cheers him on.  It’s great!
  2. She is patient.  It’s no secret that children born with Down syndrome meet their developmental milestones differently than typical children.  In fact, if you look at the developmental milestone chart  you’ll find the range for children born with Down syndrome is very wide. (For instance the chart says that a child born with Down syndrome should sit up on their own sometime between 6 and 30 months!)  With this in mind it’s great that Noah’s physical therapist is so patient with him.  She never rushes him.  She never makes us (or him) feel bad if he isn’t getting something.  And she doesn’t mind working on the same thing over, and over, and over again until he gets it (and when he does she cheers as loud as we do!)  We love it!
  3. She is invested.  I can’t tell you how many times Noah’s therapist has greeted us with comments like, “I was doing some research last night…”, “I was reading this article that said…”, I came across this research study that talked about…”.  It’s great knowing that Diana (Noah’s therapist) doesn’t view our Noah as just a chart, but she is invested in his life.  She genuinely cares about our son, and wants to see him become everything that God created Him to be.  Now, that’s a great therapist!

How To Find A Therapist You (and Your Child) Will Love

boy with down syndrome learning to crawl at physical therapy

He's glad he doesn't have to look any futher!

If you live in the United States, and especially if you live in a large city like we do, pediatric therapists are a dime a dozen.  There are clinics everywhere.  There are private therapists.  There are therapists assigned to your child by the state.  There are therapists that come to your house.  There are therapists that require you to drive to their office.  There are therapist offices that have large gyms.  There are therapist offices that have small gyms.  There are therapists that incorporate small elephants into their training.  And therapists that do not.  And the list goes on, and on.

boy with down syndrome playing with fun toys

Fun toys are also a requirement.

So how does a loving parent who wants the best for their child choose a pediatric therapist?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret…they all use the same text books. (Well, maybe not exactly the same, but you get my point.)  In order to be a licensed therapist they have to had gone to school, and most schools teach the same material (although they may use different methods to teach it.)  Since all pediatric therapists will generally have the same education, what you really want to look for is a therapist that displays the above three qualities.




It will probably take a few visits (or maybe just one!) with a therapist before you know if they have the qualities you and your child are looking for.  That’s ok. Don’t be afraid to change therapists if you (or your child) isn’t happy with their current one.  I know how frustrating it can be to make changes once you are in a rhythm, but I’ll assure that once you have a therapist that you (and your child) are happy with, you’ll view taking your child to their therapy points as a fun experience, instead of a dreaded one!

boy with down syndrome exercising at physical therapy

It may look like fun, but it's hard work!

What has been your experience with your child’s therapists? What do you like best about your child’s therapists.  Does he or she display the sort of characteristics I mentioned in this post?

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About Rick Smith

Hi, I'm Noah's Dad and I'm passionate about giving the world a window into our life as we raise our son who was born with Down syndrome. I also enjoy connecting with other families, so let's stay connected.


  1. You are so lucky. I live in a very rural area and don’t have access to the resources you have. I have been piecing together my own program at home. Watching your videos often points me in the right direction, especially with PT. He is doing so great! I can’t help but think we would be way further down the road with the kind of help he gets. Good job you guys!

    • Lilly,

      Thank you very much for the kind words. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles, but thankful that our site can be of help.

      I believe ECI is able to send therapists to your house regardless of where you live. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that is how it works.

      Have you contacted them? I’m not sure what your closest major city is, but you may want to start there, or perhaps contacting the National Down Syndrome Society, maybe they could point you in the right direction.

      Also I’m not sure if you have seen this post, but my wife put together a great list of resources. There are several books on there that are the same ones we used. They have GREAT exercises in there you can do at home.

      Here is the link —-> http://noahsdad.com/top-resources/

      Also, I’m not sure if you have ‘liked” our Facebook page, but there are lots of great parents there as well whom I’m sure would be able to give you some other great suggestions. Here is that link —> http://facebook.com/noahsdadcom

      Please keep us posted on everything. By the way, how old is your little one?

  2. Thank you so much for your reply. I love your site and read every post. Sooo inspiring and full of love and information. I appreciate what you and your wife are doing SO much!

    The good news is that I managed to get a PT to put me on the calendar for the 14th! Yay! He is coming from the next town over and I am really excited! Especially when I see how good Noah is doing with the advantage of it. Guess it pays to be the “squeaky wheel”. We drive into town for EI once a week but it didn’t have any PT, so this is a big deal. He will be able to tell me if I am on the right track or not with what I am doing with her at home and then give me additional exercises to do with her.

    Our sweet little Melody is 18 months and I posted a picture of her on your facebook page but I think it was when you were on vacation and I am not sure if you saw it or not.

    Thank you again for your encouragement and all that you do. Kiss that sweet Noah for me! He is rockin it!

  3. As a kindergarten teacher of 25 5yr-olds, I have come to appreciate and respect the value of an encouraging, patient, and invested therapist.

    You hit it exactly; those are the best qualities.

    I can’t remember who said it, but I do believe this to be true in the classroom and in life:

    “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

  4. I actually want to add one more thing. Even if you are happy with your therapists, it never hurts to keep an open mind. We loved our PT from EI, but then we took Alyson to aqua PT (not offered through EI) as an outpatient service. From that point on, I learned that A.) you can still get private services even if you are receiving EI (not a lot of people know that) and B.) that even though we love our EI PT, but our new private PT are even better! They knew so much and offered advice/tips.

    • Hey….great minds think alike!

      We tell people what you just said all the time. All of Noah’s therapy (4 times a week) is through a private therapist. Not the ECI is bad, it’s just that our first experience with them was bad.

      What people don’t understand is there’s really no difference between ECI and private therapy (other than one is offered by the state.). They all get trained the same. It’s all up to how skilled the individual therapist is.

      Some people have great success with ECI and some people aren’t happy with their “private” therapist. It’s all hinges on how well you and your child connect with the therapist.

      And you are right that a lot of people aren’t aware insurance (and Medicaid) is accepted at many private physical therapists.

      I’m glad to hear things are going so well for you guys. Have a GREAT NEW YEARS!

  5. Jen Krichbaum says

    I love our therapists both through EI. Liam has been having physical therapy in home since may and ot in home since september. I could not have done it with all my other kids if it weren’t for in home therapy. Liam loves his therapists and I feel like you summed it up well with how we all connected with them and how supportive and encouraging they are with us all. That does truly make a good therapist!

    • I’m glad you guys have found a good PT / OT. Sounds like it’s working out well.

      How old are your children if you don’t’ mind me asking? Also what sorts of things are your children doing / working on now?

  6. diane caso says

    I think that this site is fantastic. My adorable grandson Tim has been a concern to me since shortly after he was born. His pediatrician kept insisting that he was progressing normally, and that all was well, even though he had decreased muscle tone, his head tilted to the left, he had a very strange “dragging” crawl, delayed speech….at my daughter’s insistence, he began EI (and a new pediatrician) at 18 MOS…he was FINALLY diagnosed as having had a pontine stroke (early during his prenatal course) He is progressing well, yet will have many hurdles to clear Not really sure what the future holds for this adorable, cuddly 2 1/2 yr old. There really is not much information regarding Tim;s dx…the majority of these babies have multiple issues, which thankfully he does not. He is a blessing in our family, and we are so lucky to have him…KEEP DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING…YOU REALLY CAN NEVER KNOW HOW MUCH YOU ARE HELPING OTHERS!!!

    • Thank you for your kind words, you sound like a great grandmother! How is Tim doing now? What sorts of thinks is he working on?

      Also are you on our faceobok? We’d love for you to post a picture of Tim when you get a chance. 🙂 http://facebook.com/noahsdadcom (please keep us posted on your grandson’s journey. He sounds like an incredible little boy!)

  7. Found your blog via Pinterest! Wonderful wonderful! Will share with my peeps! I am a pediatric occupational therapist and really value this information. I think (HOPE!) I’m on the right track. If only my position funded the therapy time that the kids deserve. Sigh. Regardless, as long as the time is filled with encouragement, patience and investment, I will be able to smile at the end of the day!

    • Nicole, 

      How cool! It’s great to have so many OT / PT / ST reading our blog and following our story.  We are glad to have you along.  Where do you practice at? What age range do you work with?

      Do you work with any children born with Down syndrome and / or any other special needs?

  8. My mom just directed me to your site and it is incredible. As an occupational therapy student half way through my program and about to begin the pediatric coursework, this is absolutely inspiring and empowering! You are 100% correct in that part of what we do is regulated by our education and standardized governing-body requirements… BUT a large part is what each individual brings to treatment. Therapeutic use of self, investment in our patients, and how much our practice really is a part of our life, not just a job we leave at the end of the day. Thank you for sharing your experiences with PT and OT, good and bad. As a student, it’s great to hear the patient/parent perspective because that’s why we do what we do. Also, keep spreading the message and your story. It is so important for people to understand that limitations and diagnoses do not DEFINE us. Inherent within each individual are strengths waiting to be realized!

    • Emily, 
      Thanks so much for your kind words.  You sound like you are going to be an incredible occupational therapist! 🙂 

      And I totally agree, every therapist is different. State funded, private, or other…we’ve seen (or heard) both good and not-so-good ones at each.

      What do you plan on doing after school? Do you have a certain age range you’d like to work with?

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  10. Reuben's physio (i'm assuming it's the same thing) is FANTASTIC! Her name is Glenys, and she comes to our house once a fortnight now (used to be weekly) she LOVES Reuben, but is firm with him when he is being silly, and very loving towards him too! She is always there to help and even goes out of her way to help me find out information! I love Reub's physio…xx.

    • That's awesome! It sounds like you guys have a winner. By the way, do they combine OT / PT in Austrillia?

    • Rick Smith what's the difference with PT & OT? reuben had another lady come and see him on thursday with Glenys but im not too sure what she was there for? lol…she brought toys for him to play with…..is that OT? we get a dietitian and a speech pathologist who will come see us too at some stage!

    • Hi Libby Holmes! A fellow Victorian!! Physio (PT) – focusses on gross motor, or movements that require major muscle groups (like walking, running, climbing etc.). OT (Occupational therapist) focuses on fine motor activities – usually things to do with hands / fingers – and are known for their toys, so was probably an OT that came to visit. How old is your little one? My Scarlett turned three just over a week ago. Cheers.

    • ohh that make sense!!!! thanks Monica Kelly…. Reuben is 1 in 5 days! xx

    • Libby Holmes – Oh, Happy Birthday Reuben. Both have February babies. Hope you guys are doing ok. Take care, Monica

  11. This is true for any special needs child. You can tell how they treat them and how your child reacts being around them.

    • So true! How old are your children by the way?

    • Rick Smith I have a 21 year old Daughter and a eight year old nephew. He is very special needs.We love him so much. Everything makes him smile.But he is so shy that no one sees that side of him.Teachers have talked about him while he is standing there.Having no idea the impact they are doing to him. I have really thought about home schooling him.That way if he gets stuck on something instead of just moving on.We can stop and take our time so he can learn it.he needs a lot of doing it over and over.The teachers can not do that and teach the other children to.But then I worry will he become an introvert even more? Just really confused. Any way thanks for asking.lol did not mean to go on and on.

  12. We live in a rural area and we just started this month withPT 2x a month. They say he is doing well enough he doesn’t need it, but when we went to the DS clinic….they said lets keep him doing well and they helped us get it at least one more time during the month. I am currently looking into going to the local hospital once a month as well! I love that our PT believes in James!

  13. I am confused about the 6 extra posts you have. You cannot click on the pictures so how do you find the posts?

    • Wow. It looks like the links aren't working. Thanks for letting me know. That's not good. You should be able to click the picture and go to the post. Yikes. I wonder how long those haven't worked.

    • Diann Shorter says

      Rick Smith Everyone tells me that I don't miss nothin haha…One of the sign language medical books that just came out…I have found a lot of mistakes so they offered to pay me to go through the whole book and find the mistakes or publish my info in the next book

  14. Silvia has a really good therapist in Madrid, in the Down Syndrome Fundation, her name is Maria. She always tells Silvia how good she's (it's true, you know our children are a really good workers!), and she gives support to us – this is a very important thing, to give support parents who are still managing with this.
    And, as you said, she gives my daughter time to do things, no hurry, simply give her time to do her improvements.
    I remember one time Silvia didn't want to lift her head, and I said in a funny way "Silvia, you're a little lazy"… you have to see Maria, telling me "Silvia is not lazy!!!". Hahaha, I think sometimes Maria loves more Silvia than me! 😉

  15. Shelley Roberson Long says

    My Kaitie Beth loves her PT and her DI she looks forward to them coming! The DI comes every Monday and the PT is every other Tuesday for now but they are talking about getting speech therapy in too! She is almost 1 yr old and is sitting up by herself for about 30 seconds, we have her saying mama, baba, and working on dada. She clears her throat like a ahahahaha thing (my step dad taught every grandchild to do that and he passed away in 2010 so the 1st time she did it, I will admit it freaked me out, lol). She is our little blessing and we wouldn't know what to do without her or our therapists!

  16. Speaking from Australia… actually most therapists don't necessarily have the same training. As there is a generic approach to disability here, in Scarlett's three years of life, I had not met a therapist (be that speech, physio, OT, early intervention teacher) who was familiar with the evidence base for supporting kids with Down syndrome – they were not aware of the developmental charts that exist for kids with DS etc… Very (underline several times!) frustrating. I feel very fortunate just this week to have found a speech therapist who has recently moved here from the UK so is more familiar with work to support kids with DS (having experience with DownsEd…). So for those in Oz, I'd add – that they are familiar with the evidence base about how best to support kids with DS, and that they've actually had experience with kids with DS before!

  17. Barbara @ www.therextras.com says

    A dime a dozen!?  Really Rick – there are not enough therapists for all the jobs available, and I know the metroplex area; talking Texas here from San Antonio.  I can see why parents in rural areas might react to that statement with envy.  Generally, I have advised to work as well you can for as long as you can with a less-than-perfect therapist.  The next one might not come along right away and be even less of a ‘fit’ with your family.  Perhaps I inherit more complaining parents (about the former therapist) than others, but I paint your picture a bit too optimistic.  I am sharing this post with my other therapist friends – you have coined the essential characteristics needed for our work.  

  18. DS7 has Down Syndrome and Autism. When he was in 0-3, I had him in Early Intervention for PT, OT and ST, and he had a teacher to work on play skills. We also went for outside PT at a clinic.

    One PT was a very nice person, but sometimes it seemed like he treated my son like a bolster. He was more “fun” with my older son. I decided to keep him because he seemed like he was more tuned in with toddlers than babies, and he was clearly capable. I’m glad we stuck it out because he turned out to be an excellent PT. with 0-3, the PT’s job is to teach the parents how to help the child, and he was good at that. He was super-invested, too. I guess he was just self-conscious with babies.

  19. Kathleen says

    I just saw this post for the first time. Our therapist, Mary, is fantastic! She obviously loves what she does and is totally invested in her clients. She came to us through our EI coordinator who works with her through Easter Seals. She even follows our blog and comes to us every Wednesday already knowing what he’s been up to in the week since she last saw him. She gets as excited as I do about each little step forward and always gives me new ideas for our little exercise routines. For example Elliott is very visually driven and he hates tummy time, so Mary suggested we get him a big rubber ball to hang over so that when he looks up he has more to see and will want to lift his head up more. It was amazing how quickly he began improving once we started with the ball and all because she pays attention to what motivates him. It has moved me beyond words the level of dedication and care that we have gotten from everyone involved with our little Elliott so far. He has progressed so much. I hope that once he begins speech and occupational therapy that we get as lucky as we did with Mary!

  20. I am an occupational therapist and mother of a 16 month old boy named Colby. I do agree as therspist we geet the same basic training but what follows after our schooling can be very different. Ithinkyou hitit on tjehead with the first three qualities to look for but there are definately other things to consider. Early intervention will vary depending on the state you live in. In Texs which is where we started they do services in the home. We also didnt have a great experience probably partially because I am a therapist and felt likei was doing more. However other states have programs almost like a preschool where your child can go and get more intensive services. I personally really believe in a sensory approach and preger a therapist who has further training in sensory integration. Services at home can be limited because as a therapist you can only bring so much equipment with you. On the other hand you maybe limited in transportation, time, or you may have other children to consider. Every therapist brings something different to the table based ontheir personality, education, continuing education, and beliefs systems. A good therapist will listen to your concerns, explain what and why they are doing things, and hopefully provide a home program.

  21. For parents who can’t afford full time therapy intervention/ live to far out for a therapist to travel: look into EI through an early childhood educator. I am not a therapist- but my job is to work one on one with little ones implementing a program set up by therapists. The therapists explain to me what needs working on and how I can work on it, then I do all the actual therapy with the child. I consult with the therapists if I ever wonder if I’m doing something right- we send videos, etc. I do my programs in children’s homes, or in the community, or at daycare or preschool- wherever that child would be if they didn’t have a special need.

    I totally agree that those are the best qualities to look for in a therapist and a developmental specialist (my title.) Families have enough to deal with- and there are going to be professionals you have very little choice in- when you have options- find the one who you feel most comfortable with!

  22. Thank you so much for this website. I am a pediatric physical therapist and I came across your website while researching new activities to do with some of my sweet kids I work with. I read your birth story and immediately fell in love with your family when I finished it. You guys are so positive and I love it! I will be sharing this site with my families I work with. I know they will love it too. I pray I am a therapist with those 3 qualities you mentioned above. If not, I will try my hardest to work on it. After all, kids deserve the best!

  23. This article is very inspiring to me because my sister just had a baby and at birth, we learned that her son had down syndrome. It looks like your physical therapist has been a positive addition to your family life. I hope that my sister will be able to find someone who is just as encouraging, patient, and invested to help her with her new adventure.

  24. I think it’s interesting that pediatric therapy is a thing. It makes sense that you would want to do that, especially with the issues babies and children can have. You would want to make sure that they are patient, especially since they work with babies!

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