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    October is National Physical Therapy Month
    Posted on 10/15/2020
    Heidi Mills smiles for a photo

    October is National Physical Therapy Month

    October is National Physical Therapy Month! Nearly 7,000 physical therapists work in the school setting across the U.S., serving both the general education and special education student populations. Seattle Public Schools currently employs 15 physical therapists. Physical therapy is a service provided to students who have conditions that impact their movement and mobility, that interfere with the student’s ability to participate in the educational environment. Movement and mobility activities may include standing, transferring, and muscle strengthening.

    In recognition of this important work, we interviewed one of our very own physical therapists, Heidi Mills. Heidi Mills, who has been a physical therapist for over ten years and is in her second year with Seattle Public Schools, became interested in physical therapy because it allowed her to pursue a career in healthcare and have flexibility in how she wanted to practice.

    She found herself drawn to the profession to help support people in becoming better versions of themselves and finding success in movement. In the educational setting in particular, the goal is to help students access their learning environment. Prior to COVID-19, that learning environment was the school building setting, and now that most of her practice is remote, the learning environment is a student’s home. This means Heidi and her colleagues have had to shift their practice and use tools available in homes to collaborate with parents. In some cases, to support physical therapy activities at home, Heidi has coordinated the lending of certain equipment or chairs to families to support learning.

    "Because of COVID, and the transition to remote learning, we’ve moved from a model where we were collaborating and consulting with teachers to a parent coaching model. We are helping families support their students in accessing and participating in the school environment, even if that environment has changed."

    Much of her work is focused on growing the family’s knowledge, skills, and capacity so that they are confident in supporting their student with different physical therapy strategies and activities. The more confident the family and student are, the more likely the activity will be consistent, which leads to better outcomes for kids.

    It is also crucial, though, during this time of twin pandemics and great uncertainty and anxiety, that staff remain sensitive to, and respectful of, what families feel like they can take on. Heidi’s goal is to listen, empathize, practice compassion, and focus on a small number of things that support success. Heidi works closely with families to develop activities that can be embedded into a student’s daily routine, which helps reinforce the value of that movement.

    "We try to figure out which goals are the most meaningful in helping that student function successfully day-to-day, and really work on building up those skills. We have to have a discussion about what movements can be practiced at home regularly, given all that’s going on." For Heidi, flexibility and communication have been incredible tools in collaborating with families during remote learning.

    "If a kid shows up on screen in their pajamas some days, that's okay, I'm just happy they are there! It is important to stay grounded in culturally-response practice, and to remain non-judgmental about where families might be on any given day. Our service providers and educators are essentially guests in our students' homes, and that requires a lot of respect on our end. We have to assume everyone is doing their best and stay mindful that this time is incredibly challenging for families."

    Heidi also spoke to the importance of trauma-informed care as a lens for her practice, especially during 2020. "We [PTs] aren’t mental health therapists," says Heidi, "and we have to be conscious of our own mental health." Any adult who supports students must have a strong understanding of self-care to deal with the compassion fatigue and secondary trauma that are common in care taking professions. It's also important to remind families that self-care is for them too!

    "Parents know their kids, and if they feel like a break might be needed during a session, or that we may need to try a different approach, we do our best to honor that. And if families need a break? That's normal and okay too! We work to adjust our approach and focus on accomplishments and successes."

    Much gratitude to Heidi and our other stellar physical therapists for all they do to support students and families!