What is the Athletes with Disabilities Program?

Seattle Children’s has the only program in the Seattle area offering sports physical therapy for young athletes with mental and physical disabilities. We focus on helping school-age children, teens and young adults with disabilities heal after sports injuries or surgery to repair a sports injury.

We work with young athletes with disabilities at any skill level who want to return to play, prevent injuries and improve overall performance.

How will the Athletes with Disabilities Program help my child?

Our main goals are to safely return your child to play and to prevent future injuries. We focus on how sports can affect the growing muscles, joints and bones of a child with a disability.

What’s normal for most young athletes in terms of strength, range of motion and muscle tone (biomechanics) may not be normal for young athletes with disabilities. We create a custom care plan based on your child’s disability, age, sport or activity, physical condition, adaptive equipment and performance goals.

Each physical therapist on the team is trained and experienced in treating bone, joint and muscle conditions along with symptoms related to the nervous system, such as paralysis and spasticity (muscle spasms and stiffness).

We partner with you and other members of your child’s medical team. If your child has a coach, we include them in the plan. We also work closely with your adaptive equipment vendor to make sure we get the best equipment and fit for each athlete in their sport.

Which types of disabilities and injuries do you treat in the program?

Our licensed physical therapists work with young athletes who may have:

  • Neurologic or developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Down syndrome
  • Symptoms related to cancer treatment
  • Muscular dystrophy (MD)
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Stroke or traumatic brain injury
  • Orthopedic disabilities, including dwarfism, skeletal dysplasias, amputations or limb differences

Because our team knows how to work with children who have mental disabilities, we give instructions each child can understand and follow.

We address a wide range of sports injuries. Most often, we treat these conditions:

  • Ankle sprains
  • Elbow pain
  • Fractures
  • Hip pain
  • Knee pain
  • Shoulder strains and sprains (including overuse injuries from wheelchair sports or swimming)
  • Throwing and overhead sports injuries
  • Neck and back pain

What services do you offer?

Our comprehensive services include:

Assessments and testing

  • Before your child starts a sport, we check their bones, muscles and joints. We suggest a plan to help them prepare.

  • First we look at how your child moves. Then we help your child change their stroke or stride or swing to compensate for the different way their body moves. A rehab plan may help your child strengthen some muscles or get better at certain skills.

  • After watching video of your child in motion, a physical therapist can teach your child changes that may help them heal from or prevent injuries during their sport.

  • Before your child goes back to sports after an injury, we check their strength, balance and movement and how long they can be active (endurance).

  • If a child with a disability wants to try sports for the first time, we assess them and develop an exercise program to help prepare them to participate in a sport. Then we connect them with community programs. These include Special Olympics, Seattle Adaptive Sports, Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center and Outdoors for All.

Therapy

  • To ease your child’s pain symptoms and help them heal, we may use ultrasound, gentle electric stimulation or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).

  • Sessions with a physical therapist in the pool can help build muscle strength and improve motion in joints. This is helpful if your child can’t be active on solid ground right away. This is available only at Seattle Children's main campus.

  • Before surgery your child may see a physical therapist (PT), who explains the plan for healing. This is called a rehabilitation or rehab plan. Before and after surgery, the PT works with your child on the rehab exercises.

  • Taping techniques and/or braces, when appropriate, may support an injured body part or take the pressure off it as it heals. These aids also help athletes be more aware of their posture and movement.

  • We make sure equipment fits and your child knows how to use it the right way. Examples are braces or adaptive equipment, like a wheelchair for basketball.

How can I get an appointment?

If you would like a referral to the Athletes with Disabilities Program, talk to your primary care provider.

If you have a referral, you can make an appointment by calling us at 206-987-6400. Appointments are usually available within 72 hours.

If you already have an appointment, learn more about how to prepare.

Locations

Main Campus
4800 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center
1500 116th Ave. NE
Bellevue, WA 98004

Seattle Children’s South Clinic
34920 Enchanted Pkwy. S
Federal Way, WA 98003

Mill Creek Clinic
12800 Bothell–Everett Hwy., Suite 150
Everett, WA 98208

Who’s on the team?

Our Athletes with Disabilities Program includes board-certified orthopedic (bone, joint and muscle) specialists, rehabilitation specialists and therapists certified in sport-specific biomechanics, including ballet, Pilates, golf and Sportsmetrics (a program to prevent injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee).

All of our licensed physical therapists have advanced training in pediatric rehabilitation. Their specialties include orthopedic and neurologic deficits, injury prevention, posture and body mechanics, video analysis of running and gait, throwing and overhead sports, dance, gymnastics and team sports.

Leadership

  • Laura Crooks, OTR/L, director, Rehabilitation
  • Mimi Racicot, DPT, manager, Sports Rehabilitation

Physical therapists

Main Campus

  • Summer Ice-Tseng, DPT
  • Janet Morton, PT

Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center

  • Cari Anderson, DPT, C/NDT

Federal Way Clinic

  • Cari Anderson, DPT, C/NDT
  • Kristie Bombaro-McCollum, MPT
  • Natalie Johnson, DPT

Mill Creek Clinic

  • Janine Huang, DPT
  • Steve McKenzie, MSPT

Resources

You and your family may find helpful information on these pages and in these patient handouts.

Adaptive recreation activities

To help promote physical activity and recreation for all members of our community, Seattle Children’s has compiled an Adaptive Sports Directory (PDF). It is listed with other useful links on our Sports Physical Therapy Resources page.