Many students with autism spectrum disorder experience delays in acquiring motor (movement) skills and may have difficulty with motor coordination, postural control, and imitating the movements of other people. PT is offered for our Academy360 students who require this service as part of their IEP. Our PT staff, employees of AJL Therapy for Kids, is embedded at A360 Lower and Upper Schools and are an integral part of the Academy360 team.

 ”Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein

If your child has trouble with balance, movement or even needs tips on how to ride a bicycle – physical therapy can help. Pediatric physical therapists are specifically trained to help children independently and actively participate at home, in school, and in the community. Physical therapists must be graduates of accredited educational programs and comply with rules of licensure, registration and practice as applicable in any state in which they are practicing.

With Spectum360’s focus on the “whole individual”, for those students who need it, physical therapy is an important part of the school day at Academy360.  Typically, physical therapy is identified as part of the IEP from the student’s sending school district and is carried out at Academy360.

Who are the Academy360’s physical therapists?

Melissa Cunha, MS, PT, works at A360 Upper School. She received her Master Degree in Physical Therapy from UMDNJ – Rutgers. She has 18 years of PT experience; 15 spent at Spectrum360 working at both A360 Lower and Upper schools.

Jency Joseph, DPT, works at A360 Lower School. She received her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Rutgers in 2016 and has worked at Spectrum360 for 2 years.

Meghan Tilley, DPT, works at both A360 schools. She received her Doctor of Physical Therapy from Seton Hall in 2017 and has worked at Spectrum360 for 1 year.

What does a school-based pediatric physical therapist do?

Physical therapists (PTs) are movement experts. They help students navigate their school environment safely and keep up with their peers. They assess students in the classroom, on the playground, and in other physical environments. They look for deficits in strength, endurance, balance, and coordination as well as motor development using standardized assessment for age equivalents. Functional deficits might include a decreased ability to sit upright during class, tripping or falling over obstacles, difficulty going up or down stairs safely in school or on the bus, when climbing playground equipment, or when performing age-related gross motor skills. Physical therapists incorporate fun and motivational elements into functional activities to make therapy enjoyable for the student.

What are some of the differences in treating students in A360 Lower School vs. A360 Upper School?

In both schools, the PTs works on helping students safely move in and around the environment. Children in the Lower School are often working on age-related gross motor skills and balance. Additionally, Lower School activities are often set up as more of a game to disguise the mobility, strengthening and balance skills being addressed. In the Upper School, where many of our students are heading to work, physical therapy focuses on functional balance, strength, and endurance activities along with strategies to use on the job. Health and wellness activities are also introduced in the Upper School, often using the fitness equipment available to promote these skills.

What are the best parts of working as a school-based Physical Therapist?

One of the best parts of being a school-based physical therapist is the opportunity to be part of a team and work with other therapists, teachers, staff, and family to develop and achieve personalized goals for each student. We are able to maintain relationships with the students and their families and see the growth and improvement over the years. Every small achievement is a huge accomplishment and rewarding to see!

How can physical therapy help your child?

Pediatric physical therapy can help your child grow stronger, more coordinated, and improve his or her confidence in gross motor skill performance. PTs emphasize the importance of ongoing fitness and exercise training while offering genuine excitement about physical activity. If you notice your child struggling to keep up with peers, having trouble keeping pace with you when walking, having difficulty on the stairs, or navigating around obstacles, contact the PT department at A360 to discuss the issue.

Michele Homa, MA, OT is a graduate of NYU and has worked in a variety of clinical settings. For the last 18 years, she has worked solely in pediatrics, first as a supervisor of OT/PT services for both Livingston Services Corporation (a pediatric division of St. Barnabas Hospital) and currently for AJL Therapy For Kids. Michele is certified as a Level 1, Advanced Mentored Clinician in Sensory Processing Disorders, having completed the Advanced Intensive Mentorship from the Sensory Processing Foundation in Colorado. She has extensive training in advanced therapy techniques including The Listening Program, Yoga for special needs children and Handwriting without Tears.