Physical Therapy for Developmental Delays

The Rehabilitation Services Department at CHOC Children’s provides physical therapy for children of all ages, from birth through age 21. All of our therapies are designed to meet each patient’s specific needs with the goal of teaching the child how to successfully navigate his or her environment.

We teach each patient’s family how to help their child achieve their developmental milestones and work to develop exercises, therapy and experiences that benefit the child and his or her family. We challenge the child to explore his or her environment while still maintaining a safe experience. As part of therapy, therapists work to stimulate:

  • The neural centers: groups of nerves that work together to produce movement.
  • The vestibular system: the sensory system that controls balance and coordination with movement.
  • The proprioceptive centers: bundles of tissue that help us know where our body is in space.
  • The sensory organs: ears, eyes, mouth, skin and nose.
  • Muscles.

We use physical therapy to treat:

  • Congenital muscular torticollis and plagiocephaly.
  • Developmental delay / hypotonia.
  • Idiopathic toe walking.
  • Balance and coordination disorders.
  • Genetic syndromes, including Angelman syndrome, Cri-du-chat syndome, Down syndrome (Trisomy 21), Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy, Klinefelter syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome and cystic fibrosis

Want to know more about physical therapy for developmental delays?

Frequently Asked Questions About Physical Therapy and Developmental Delays

The therapists at the Rehabilitation Services Department at CHOC Children’s work with patients of all ages with a variety of diagnoses. The questions below are some of the most frequently asked questions about physical therapy and developmental delays and should not replace the specific information provided by the patient’s therapists or doctor.

Will my child catch up with his or her gross motor development?

Most of the time, a developmental problem is not something a child will “grow out of” on his or her own. With help, children can reach their personal potential. Because each child’s diagnosis and medical history is different, a child’s personal potential may be meeting gross motor development for his or her age, while for other children, it may not. The child’s physical therapist and physician can discuss what to expect as the child gets older.

How long will my child need physical therapy?

Every child is different. Some children only need therapy for a few weeks while others may require more intensive therapy for a longer period of time. Some children may even have to return to therapy after they have been discharged (the therapy has ended) because they are not meeting a new developmental milestone.

What kind of toys can I use to assist my child’s development?

Family members should play with the child using age and developmentally appropriate toys, meaning toys should not only be appropriate for the child’s age, but they should be appropriate for the child’s current state of development so that they are not so challenging that they are frustrating or too easy. Toys should also be those that the child likes and makes him want to play.

How much tummy time is recommended?

Babies need the opportunity to play on their tummies every day. This special, supervised time should be done during the day, each day, for approximately one hour per day. Tummy time can be split up in 10-minute sessions five to seven times per day. Not all babies enjoy tummy time, some may cry or refuse to lift up their head. Parents should make tummy time fun by playing with the baby using brightly colored toys and talking with the baby down at his or her level. It is important for babies to spend limited time each day in an infant seat (carrier), swing or other restrictive chair that makes it tough for the baby to move freely. Learn more about tummy time.

How can my child get physical therapy?

Children are referred by their pediatrician for a physical therapy evaluation. When speaking with the child’s pediatrician, it is helpful to bring a list of all of your concerns about the child’s development.

Will my child be sore from physical therapy?

Children may be tired or a little achy from physical therapy for a short time after therapy sessions. Because physical therapy focuses on working muscles that are weak, the child’s muscles may be a little sore afterward.

What is the difference between physical therapy and a community exercise program like mommy-and-me classes, Gymboree, etc?

Unlike group classes, physical therapy is a customized program that is designed to fit the child and family’s needs. The child and caregiver are guided one-on-one by one of our therapists through the child’s care and home program. Please speak with the child’s therapists or physician about any of your specific questions. Learn more about physical therapy for children with developmental delays.