Pediatric physical therapy addresses movement and development of the infant and child. In some situations, this means movements to rehabilitate children with delay that is clear in situations like severe prematurity, genetic diagnoses, and cerebral palsy.
Other times, pediatric physical therapy is warranted but the diagnosis is of early infant movement development, for example, Torticollis (tight weak uncomfortable unmoving neck) and Plagiocephaly (flat head asymmetric head shape).
Third, pediatric physical therapy is warranted even when the movement diagnoses is not clear or there is no diagnosis. For example, if a family has questions about their child’s development due to slow or delayed milestones, pediatric therapy is indicated. Why?
Because pediatric physical therapy is not just for children with special needs. Pediatric physical therapy is education and movement that can be completed by loving family to support the child’s development. It is empowering to be able to support your own child’s development, just like you would purchasing a book you know improves your child’s language.
Pediatric physical therapy does not require a referral in the state of Illinois. Physical therapy is a licensed profession at the primary care level. Primary care is valued with direct access which means you may seek services without a referral.
That being said, collaboration with the pediatrician is always a match. For example, when a pediatrician makes a referral for Torticollis and/or Plagiocephaly when the baby is 2 months, this is ideal! Why? Because between 2 and 4 months, the baby head shape is most responsive to therapy to naturally improve the head shape without the helmet.
That is a very common scenario, another than is common but that requires advocacy is when families approach the pediatrician with concerns but there is a mismatch. Meaning, the family mentions, “I’m concerned about a flat spot on my baby’s head,” or “My baby sleeps with their head only one way,” or “My baby’s neck seems weak compared to others,” or “My baby is not moving compared to other babies,” and in return, they are told:
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Will go away on it’s own.”
“Baby takes their time through their milestones.”
While (as a pediatric physical therapist) I agree with the last statement, yes a baby does follow their own timeline on their milestones, educating the family to provide movements to support development is the best possible situation to support a child’s development.
So in conclusion, no, a referral to receive pediatric physical therapy is not required. Any family, in any situation, may seek services to promote their baby or child’s physical development. It’s as simple at that.