This February, I had the privilege of attending one of largest gatherings of physical therapists and associated professionals in the U.S. in the beautiful city of San Antonio, Texas. This was my first time at the annual APTA’s Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) and it was such a positive experience that I am already thinking about attending again in 2018. The event consisted of 3 lecture sessions per day as well as poster displays and exhibitions. Although I enjoyed every aspect, I found the lectures were especially intriguing and beneficial for me as a current student of physical therapy as well as a LEND trainee. For each of the 3 sessions we had our choice of around 20-30 different topics we could attend. Of the lectures, I chose to attend 3 were disability specific.

The very first lecture I attended was about pediatric physical therapy for children with cerebral palsy. The lecture used expert insight and evidence analysis to discuss which treatments are most effective for improving motor control and how these treatments work with various family dynamics and health care plans. It also examined the process of diagnosis and how many children are limited in care because an “official” diagnosis of cerebral palsy can sometimes take up to 2 or 3 years. Not only does this delay treatment, but it is also very stressful for parents. This part of the lecture paralleled many discussions we have had in LEND involving the diagnosis of autism in children. It seems to be an unfortunate theme in our pediatric healthcare system.

The second morning of the conference, I attended a lecture on necessity of physical therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although ASD is a frequent topic in our LEND didactic sessions, motor control in children (or adults) with ASD and the usefulness of physical therapy has not been a major focus of discussion. The lecture I attended was delivered by a woman who was both a physical therapist and the mother of person with ASD and a researcher who studied motor control in children with ASD. They both provided a lot of new information for me on how poor motor control is seen almost universally in children with ASD and can contribute to their social isolation. They also reviewed physical therapy treatments for poor motor control in children with ASD that are supported by evidence.

One of the final lectures I attended discussed the need for a paradigm shift for physical therapists in the treatment of patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Since LEND is primarily focused on developmental disabilities, ALS is not something that has been reviewed in detail. None the less, it is a disability that has a profound effect on the patients, their families and out healthcare system. It was interesting to examine disability from the perspective of a person who has lived much of their life as an able-bodied person. It was, I think, important for me, as a future healthcare provider, to reflect on the impact a degenerative, non-curable, disease can have on a person’s personality and outlook and how that can affect my ability to provide them with the best care possible.

All the lectures I attended were very beneficial for me and I am so pleased that LEND provided me with the opportunity to have such an in-depth learning experience. I have not been able to stop talking about my CSM experiences since I returned and I am very much looking forward to going again next year. I would recommend attending CSM to all PTs and PTAs, especially if they also happen to be LEND trainees or alumni!