Everything you need to know about Intensive Therapy for Special Needs Children

What is intensive therapy?

Intensive therapy is usually a short program, in which a child with a disability will participate for 2 hours, 3 times per week for 5 weeks. Within a short time, your special one will accomplish numerous practices. During the intensive therapy sessions, a Therasuit will be utilized for him or her.

Specific organizations provide Intensive therapies for children with special needs to help them make progress in their developmental skills such as sitting, standing, walking, having head control, and using their gross motor skills. These organizations have trained physical and occupational therapists that will assist your child in practicing their developmental skills and striving to improve.

Initial evaluation

The intensive therapy will start out with an initial evaluation including measuring the child and a baseline of their current abilities. The therapist will also ask you a bunch of questions. Inquiries will be made in regard to your child’s preferences to play with and what motivates him or her.

What is a Therasuit?

During intensive therapy, a Therasuit may be used to provide extra support to the child and enhance their progress. In order to use the Therasuit, the child must get a hip x-ray and be approved by a doctor that consults that particular facility.

What does the Therasuit consist of?

The Therasuit consists of a vest and shorts, placed together with velcro, a cap for head control, knee pads, shoes and bungee cords. The vest and shorts have several small hooks on the front and back of the suit that bungee cords attached to.

The purpose of the bungee cords on the therasuit.

The bungee cords will place either vertically or diagonal to provide the extra support that is needed on the side of the child’s body, at the discretion of the therapist. Bungee cords attached to the vest are also connected to the shorts, which are connected to the shoes. The purpose of the placement of diagonal bungee cords is to pull the muscles in the desired direction. For instance, if a child tends to lean to the left, the therapist will place the bungee cords on the right in the opposite direction.

What does intensive therapy entail?

During Intensive therapy, the physical therapist will try multiple strategies with your child to improve their developmental skills (i.e. sitting, head control, standing, walking, being on their tummies). Additionally, supportive vests other than the Therasuit will be placed on your special one to provide additional support. Hand, arm, and leg immobilizers may be also used during the intensive therapy sessions. Lastly, a variety of equipment will be tested with your special needs child.

Examples of the exercises & methods used:

1. Sitting Practice

Sitting on a bench

One exercise your child will work on is sitting on a bench with a therapist. The skills that are worked on during this exercise are balancing, weight bearing through the feet, head control, eye-hand coordination, and gross motor skills. During this activity, your child will play with a preferred toy to motivate him or her.

Sitting on a cube chair

When a cube chair is used to practice sitting, her braces and shoes will need to be on and the therapist will be sitting in front of the child, holding him/her under the arms. After the child sits for a while, the therapist will guide the child to stand as they stand up at the same time. Then repeat.

Floor sitting

This program will help children who have difficulty sitting upright enhance their endurance. The strategies to assist your child is to be supported by the therapist and wear supportive vests such as a Spio and a Benik in this position. Moreover, finding a toy or activity that motivates him or her.

Sitting on a bolster

One of the ways to practice sitting during an intensive therapy session is sitting on a bolster with a therapist. First, your child’s braces and shoes will be put on to help him or her to weight bear through their legs and feet. You have a couple of options while using the bolster. The first option is putting the bolster on a cube chair on a slant to make it easier for the child to move their torso up from a downward position. Secondly, the child can sit on the bolster directly on the floor. As your special one is sitting on the bolster, he or she will be playing with a toy or looking in a mirror to engage in.

Sitting on a large exercise ball

Sitting on a large exercise ball as your special one participates in intensive therapy is an effective way to strive towards strengthening and enhancement of developmental skills. Head control, core muscles, and endurance will increase from

Sitting on a swing

Swinging while swinging is a great motivator for kids with special needs. Usually, special needs kids love to move. If you add an activity like knocking over large blocks on a bolster, he or she will not only sit well, they will have fun.

2. Sit to stand

For your child to work on standing from a sitting position, her AFO’s (braces) and shoes will be put on first if necessary. Then the therapist will need a therapy bench to sit on with him or her. A taller bench to put a toy on, a mirror or a therapy ladder to grab onto should be placed in front of the child to motivate her.

An alternative method for the child to work on sit-to-stand is sitting in a cube chair or a bench. The therapist is sitting on a bench, similar in height. While holding onto the child under his or her arms, you guide her up to a standing position. Then sit back down and repeat.


Skills that are worked on during sit-to-stand are weight bearing through the legs and feet, powering up through the waist and legs, balance, sitting, and head control.

3. Standing

Another developmental skill that is worked on in an intensive therapy session is standing. This skill can be practiced in front of a large therapy ball, a gymnastics bolster, a tall bench, a therapy table, and/or a vibrating plate machine. Moreover, weight bearing on one leg at a time and kicking a ball may be an exercise the therapist will use.

Spider Cage

While being in the Therasuit and participating in intensive therapy, your child may attempt
to stand in the Spider Cage. This equipment helps special needs children to learn new and correct patterns of movement through strengthening and practice.

First, a harness will be put on your child with or without the Therasuit. Secondly, long bungee cords will be connected to the harness. Then the other end of the bungee cords will be hooked to both sides of the cage. Finally, your special one will do an activity or play with toys.

4. Walking

In addition to practicing sitting and standing, being able to make alternate steps and walk is an essential skill for your child to perform. Plus, walking daily is important to maintain bone health and growth.

Methods to practice walking

Walking with assistance

Several ways are used to assist a child with a disability to walk. One natural strategy to help your child to practice walking is holding the child up by his or her underarms. An approach that works effectively is to use equipment to support your special one to walk.

Gait Trainer

As your child is participating in intensive therapy, he or she may be put in a gait trainer to practice walking. While your special one is walking, the therapist will help him or her with their stepping to ensure they are placing their feet down one at a time.

Gait Mobility Frame Walkable

A Gait Mobility Frame Walkable supports an individual in need of much assistance. The device includes a large frame with wheels to push while the child walks and four lockable casters to attach to the harness he or she will wear. If head control is a struggle for your child, this device will not work well for him or her.

The purpose of the mobility frame is to encourage proper posture, balance, coordination, and strength in the upper and lower extremities. Endurance is also increased in order to stand and walk.

Track system

To practice walking, a different harness will be put on your special one and he or she will be hooked up to a track system attached to the ceiling. Then the therapist will scoot on a stool behind her and assist them to alternate their legs to walk properly.

Conditions the Therasuit can provide assistance

The Therasuit can benefit children with a variety of conditions or disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delays, traumatic brain injuries, neurological disorders, muscle tone disorders, ataxia, and athetosis.

Ways your special needs child can benefit from the Intensive Therapy

Throughout or after the 5 weeks of intensive therapy, you will notice small achievements or significant enhancements in your special needs child. For instance, my daughter, who has Cerebral Palsy has reached for objects more frequently 3 weeks into the intensive therapy. Additionally, she had learned to move her torso up in a sitting position. Walking in a gait trainer independently is one more example.

Other resources

Suit Therapy

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Easter Seals

The Therapy Place

University Health System

Lampert’s Therapy

Check out Hippotherapy or 10 Toys or Activities for more information regarding therapy.

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