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Combining Playtime and Therapyfor Exceptional Results | NEWS-Line for Physical Therapists & PT Assistants
NEWSRoom | Source:  

Combining Playtime and Therapyfor Exceptional Results

For Jessica Bush, the decision to become a physical therapist was not a difficult one. It could even be said that she took to the notion as easily as a duck takes
to swimming. "I was passionate about working with young children," she recalls. "I was a swim instructor for eight years, working predominantly with infants and toddlers, although I occasionally taught school-age children and adults as well."

A lifelong advocate of fitness and good health, Bush was every bit as passionate about disease prevention, education and helping those who are sick or injured to recover. Then she attended a job fair at her school, where one of the speakers was a physical therapist, and she listened with increasing interest as the therapist talked about the rigors, responsibilities and rewards of the career.

Bush recalls how strong of a reaction she had to the speaker's presentation. "How perfect—this job involves everything I love!" From that point on, she knew she wanted to be a physical therapist, with a special emphasis on pediatrics. To that end, she earned her bachelor's and master's of science degrees from Thomas Jefferson University, and has since become trained and certified in the Interactive Metronome Program, which is a computer-based technology designed to improve a patient's skills in attention, sequencing, coordination, motor planning and timing.

In 2004 Bush attended a conference, where she encountered a woman with whom she shared an interest in pediatrics. During the course of their conversation, Bush learned about a facility called Theraplay, Inc.; Bush's new acquaintance was a friend of the owner, and encouraged the young therapist to contact her. "So I did, and all is well," she quips.

Lisa Mackell, a pediatric physical therapist living and working in southeastern Pennsylvania, founded Theraplay, Inc. in 1991. Mackell's aim was to allow children to receive the benefits of physical, occupational, speech and feeding therapies at home, in school and in early intervention centers. The official mission of Theraplay is "to provide pediatric therapy services in a play environment." The first Theraplay pediatric outpatient rehabilitation center opened in 1996 in Chester County, and offered speech, physical and occupational therapies to its young patients. Theraplay therapists treat children who suffer from a wide variety of physical and developmental conditions; these include sensory dysfunction, genetic syndromes, feeding difficulties, sports-related injuries, prematurity and language disorders, to name just a few. Outpatient therapy is offered on both an individual basis and therapeutic play groups; therapy given in the patient's home may include physical, occupational and language or speech therapy, as well as special education services.

In the 15 years since Mackell first realized her vision, Theraplay has grown to include three pediatric outpatient centers in Pennsylvania—one in Horsham, Montgomery County; one in West Chester, Chester County; and one in Drexel Hill, Delaware County. The facility's basic premise is that the best opportunities for children to learn and develop come to them through play, and so therapy services are provided in a play environment, which may be floor play with a toddler, to baseball activities for an injured ball player. The patients' families are encouraged to be involved in the games and activities that help the children increase their skills. The interaction with the staff and—in group therapy—other children gives the young patients the added benefit of socialization while they learn and grow. Theraplay continues to examine the pediatric therapy market and plans to expand accordingly over time, in order to provide its services to a perpetually widening patient base.

"Theraplay," Bush says, "offers many services to our children and their families." There is a weight management program called Fitness Fundamentals, to help young clients avoid the modern plague, childhood obesity. The facility provides other wellness programs as well, which focus on sports readiness. There are also a number of therapeutic play groups that focus on different physical, social and developmental points of study; these include handwriting, sports readiness and sensory therapy, as well as general motor skills. Some of the more specialized services offered by Theraplay employees are Therapeutic Listening, infant massage, neurodevelopmental therapy, sensory integration therapy, Interactive Metronome and Kinesiotaping, among others. Many of the patients' families report that, even after only a few sessions with the therapists, their children have demonstrated a noticeable improvement.

Among the many valuable services Theraplay provides for the community at large, are screening patients for scoliosis, training individuals in CPR and offering a referral network and community health fairs. Additionally, they have a catalog full of therapeutic tools and toys for sale that are ideal for families who wish to continue helping the children at home. They offer such items as exercise balls to increase gross motor skills, pencil grips and scissors for fine motor skills, scrub brushes for sensory therapy and tongue depressors for oral motor skills.

Bush emphasizes the ‘play' aspect of Theraplay's mission and how it can help the progression of therapy. "We incorporate games, crafts, obstacle courses and so on, into the goals of our sessions to make the therapy fun for the children. We see the children on a one-on-one basis. Our staff works very hard at creating and implementing home exercise programs with all of our patients' families, and informing our families on how they can best help their child." The staff stresses that the involvement of the family members is very important; even something as simple as holding a baby differently at home can have a beneficial result.

Bush may be having a good time playing with the children, but in truth, her job is not all fun and games. She was recently promoted to the Center Manager at the West Chester office. "I oversee all of the therapists and the front desk staff," she says. In addition to this, she is a full-time therapist, consistently teaching and guiding students ranging in age from newborn to 21 years old.

"The most common diagnoses that I see are Torticollis, toe-walking, developmental delay, gross motor delay, coordination disorders, cerebral palsy and many different types of orthopedic conditions," Bush reports. "I am not involved in any research projects at the present time, but I would love to perform further research into Torticollis and the development of infants and toddlers." Torticollis is a congenital or acquired condition of limited neck motion in which the child will hold the head to one side with the chin pointing to the opposite side. Most commonly, it is diagnosed within the first few months of life, and if left untreated, it can cause permanent deformity and/or motor delays. The condition can be treated with the performance of gentle stretching exercises applied over a period of time; in most cases, it will disappear within three months of beginning physical therapy. "I love working with infants and toddlers with Torticollis," Bush professes. "I really enjoy educating the families and increasing my knowledge of the diagnosis to help the families as much as I can."

When she is asked about her favorite aspect of her job, anyone speaking to Bush will find that her enthusiasm is impossible to hide. "My job is fun and the kids are awesome!" she declares happily. "They really make you sit back and be thankful for all that you have and can do. Watching them meet their goals and perform activities that they could not perform before is the greatest sight in the world. You watch their eyes light up, and then a giant smile creeps onto the child's face. As a therapist, you really feel proud! Then at the end of a session, you watch a child race to his or her parents, just as fast as he or she can go, to show Mom and Dad what he or she can do now. The excitement begins again!"

When she considers the physical therapy field in general, Bush notes, "physical therapists are changing all the time in regards to education and teaching. The best adjunct to physical therapy is to carry over in the home. We [at Theraplay] create home exercise programs for our families, and we must be able to create one to fit that specific family to receive the best carry-over." Different aspects of the families' lives must be taken into account each time an individual exercise program is designed, as well as the specific patient's needs. "In order to [help them get the most benefit from their program,] you must be creative, involve the family and the child and explain the benefits of the program."

Even in the midst of her various and extremely important responsibilities, Bush does not appear to feel like she has too much on her plate. Rather, she seems to feel quite the opposite. When asked what the greatest concern to a physical therapist is, her response is fully demonstrative of her tremendous commitment to her field of service and the people she helps each day.

"The greatest concern to a physical therapist is: have we done everything we can do for the patient?" she replies. "And if not, what more can we do?"

Jessica Bush, PT, received both her bachelor's and master's of science from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Since 2004 she has worked at the Theraplay, Inc. branch in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where she currently serves as the center manager. Learn more about Theraplay at:

Laura Klotz is a freelance writer residing in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. She is on the editorial staff of NEWS-Line for Physical Therapists and PT Assistants.

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