During the summer of 2014, a group of 20 entry-level Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students from MGH Institute of Health Professions had the opportunity to engage in a new “adapting” therapy education class near Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, focused on teaching the next generation of therapists how they can integrate adaptive sports into their “therapy tool box.”

A news release from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and the MGH Institute of Health Professions notes that the class is a new collaboration between the two Partners HealthCare System affiliates, and occurs at Spaulding Adaptive Sport Center’s Dr. Charles H. Weingarten Program. The adaptive sports program, led by Mary Patstone, director of Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers (SASC), has assisted thousands of individuals with disabilities in participating in activities such as handcycling, kayaking, windsurfing, and golf. Program participants exhibit varying abilities, with some requiring significant equipment modification and full transfer assistance, while others require minimal modification or assistance.

Student David Debaere adds “It’s a real eye-opener to see [and] learn how people can do these activities. It can allow them to have a more involved and fuller life.”

According to the release, while several adaptive sports certificate programs exist, such as Blaze Sports America in Colorado, this class is one of the first to begin integrating it into a physical therapy graduate degree curriculum.

The desired impact of the class reflects Spaulding’s own stance that designates the inclusion of adaptive sports opportunities in both the inpatient and outpatient environment as a “critical part of the rehabilitation continuum”, Patstone says, “Rehabilitation is a long and intense process that requires motivation to face pain, fatigue, boredom, and frustration.”

The concept for the class began to evolve when Oswald “Oz” Mondejar, senior vice president of Mission and Advocacy at Spaulding and board member at the MGH Institute of Health Professions, and Patstone discussed it with Leslie Portney, DPT, PhD, FAPTA, Dean of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at MGH Institute of Health Professions and her team.

Mondejar notes that while “we as providers know the benefits of adaptive sports, there is a real dearth of published research documenting its outcomes.”

To this end, down the road Mondejar says, “Our hope is with our academic partners to expand that research knowledge base by providing the hard data supporting the importance of adaptive sports.” Additionally, there is hope that the course may serve as a catalyst to build demand in the industry for these professionals, allowing its use to expand beyond Spaulding and benefit individuals nationwide, helping to improve their quality of life.

The course was developed and taught by Ali Stoll, PT, DPT, a 2011 alumna of the MGH Institute of Health Professions and a therapist at Spaulding. Its objectives hinged on understanding the importance of adaptive sports in returning individuals to work and recreation when faced with a disability.

“Our graduate students learned about safety concerns with various sports activities, and how to develop modifications that will allow individuals to pursue their own goals. This experience gave students a different perspective regarding the abilities and potential of those who have disabling conditions,” Portney says.

The course also opened the doors to interdisciplinary collaboration, since physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists can all contribute to the individual’s functional adaptations. This ranged from learning the physical needs of the sports, to building in balance and strengthening components, developing modifications to adapt physical limitations, and enhancing communication as part of the activity.

While the course was designed this year for DPT students, it is anticipated that students in the MGH Institute of Health Professions Doctor of Occupational Therapy and Master of Speech-Language Pathology will be able to take part in the future.

Portney also points out that the benefits of the course are two-fold, with students learning how to provide rehabilitation within the clinical setting, while translating those efforts into functional activities that can enhance an individual’s quality of life.

The ultimate goal centers on educating clinicians who graduate from MGH Institute of Health Professions in adaptive sports program opportunities, teaching methodologies and adaptive equipment resources, creating “a generation of clinicians who regularly utilize adaptive sports as a tool to impact initial clinical outcomes, as well as equip their patients for long-term physical—and emotional—health and wellness by educating them about sport and recreation opportunities,” Mondejar emphasizes.

The Adaptive Sports elective will be available each year to students, Portney says, and while it is currently offered once a year, “we are continuing to expand our curricula and student opportunities, and we are discussing possibilities of involvement at other times of year, not necessarily as part of a formal course, so that students can be involved in the winter sports as well.”

Information about course offerings in all programs is available on the MGH Institute of Health Professions website.

[Photo Credit: MGH Institute of Health Professions]

[Source(s): Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, MGH Institute of Health Professions]