How Helping Students in Developing Countries Has Shaped Who We Are
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we are committed to putting children first. This philosophy drives our innovative solutions, priorities, and company-wide fiscal responsibility as a school therapy staffing service. Driven by the community’s ever-growing need for therapy and clients’ budget constraints, we asked ourselves, “How can we do more for a greater population of students for less?” Upon thinking about a way to make the strategies we use in our therapy service mission available and accessible to more children, we decided to invest in creating a whole host of resources that would be available to teachers and families at clients where PTS provided services and around the globe.
Therapy Without the Therapist
In 2008, PTS built a partnership with the Beautiful Gates Special School (BGSS) in Mysore, India. I elected to visit the school and consult with the staff and families of 20 students who had a variety of disabilities, such as autism. Suddenly, I was in a school where there were no therapists or formal school therapy services, and the needs were overwhelming. I had only ten school days to impart enough therapy ideas, strategies, and objectives to last for the year.
We developed training programs and supports for teachers, and we looked for ways to provide “therapy without a therapist.” As teachers and caregivers were empowered, we saw the students make astonishing progress over the next 12 months. By applying this same model at the schools we service here (but this time, with therapists included on site!) we were able to address the fiscal concerns of our clients. At the same time, we committed ourselves to serving a growing number of children.
In September 2018, PTS initiated a teacher training program for a network of more than 1000 schools in the Dominican Republic; here, we repurposed many of the in-services we provide to teachers here in the U.S. PTS clients have gotten involved as well, consulting on training content and instructional strategies. Since pediatric therapists are not readily accessible in the D.R., empowering teachers with these tools is the only way to support struggling students.
Embedding Therapeutic Strategies into the Everyday
There is an undeniable benefit to having a team of highly-qualified clinicians collaborating to help a student. However, we have found that real progress comes when teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents start doing the same kinds of things that we do in therapy all week long.
For example, many of the students with delays had weak hands and could not adequately hold a pencil to write. By incorporating hand strengthening activities from occupational therapy into class (for example, by counting beads as they added them to a string,) students’ hand muscles and motor skills began to develop.
When the students in India went from being non-verbal to speaking, or from crawling to walking, after the teachers implemented my recommendations, it caused a real shift in my perspective. In the U.S., where we are rich in resources, it’s easy to just prescribe more therapy—instead of implementing therapeutic strategies in everyday life.
Therapy Isn’t Magic
Most pediatric therapists spend many years studying neurology, physiology, and etiology, making us experts on child development. That doesn’t mean that the strategies that we use require a graduate degree to implement. What therapists actually do to help students can be easily taught and replicated by other caregivers and educators. PTS has created free parent and teacher resources for just that reason.
Bridging theory and practice enables us to help thousands of students in the US, a major outcome of our school therapy service mission. In turn, this gave us the tools to continue sharing our strategies with schools around the world.
Growing After Our Therapy Service Mission
Today, PTS-developed resources are being shared in more than a dozen countries. I have had the privilege to travel to India annually over the last decade and recently began the development of a training program that will impact over 1,000 schools in the Dominican Republic. This will result in a host of resources being translated into Spanish, reaching even more teachers and families.
On my most recent trip in September 2018, one of the lead teachers said, “The training you have provided didn’t just change our minds about what to do with these students. It changed our hearts.” Empowering teachers with training on disabilities doesn’t just expand their capability as educators; it creates compassion and empathy for others. As a lifelong pediatric specialist, there is nothing more gratifying.
BGSS now has four buildings and serves almost 100 students, many of whom would have not been able to ever attend school otherwise. As the company and our missions continue to expand, we continue to think of new ways to support children with special needs by sharing what we have and what we know.
To learn more about how our therapy service mission impacted us, contact us today.