Rock Climbing in a Therapy Clinic by Nicole Biatowas, OTR/L, MS

Rock Climbing in a Therapy Clinic by Nicole Biatowas, OTR/L, MS 

As a pediatric occupational therapist at Orange Pediatric Therapy in Orange, CT (powered by Cheshire Fitness Zone), I help children develop the skills necessary for the job of living through play. I often joke with my family and friends that I am a “professional player,” as the sessions with my patients may look like I am just playing with them. However, these play sessions have a hidden purpose. During my sessions, I frequently utilize the rock climbing wall with holds from Everlast Climbing. Here are some of the skills I work to improve: 

  • Fine motor development: dexterity, strength, grasp, and range of motion of the hands 
  • Bilateral coordination: the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time. This impacts activities such as cutting while stabilizing the paper, manipulating clothing fasteners, and opening a container.
  • Motor planning abilities: the ability to plan and sequence appropriate movements to meet the demands of a novel task. To achieve this, the brain relies on the sensory system and body awareness.
  • Core muscle strength: the development of the torso muscles that stabilize, align, and move the trunk of the body. Decreased core strength can cause poor posture impacting fine motor skill development.
  • Upper extremity use (range of motion, strength, and coordination): underlying skills necessary for most childhood occupations such as self-feeding, getting dressed, catching a ball, and handwriting.
  • Visual motor Skills: the interplay between visual skills, visual perceptual skills and motor skills such as coloring, cutting, and writing.
  • Visual perceptual skills: processing and interpreting meaning from the visual information that we gain through our eyesight. Visual perception plays an important role in handwriting, mathematics, and reading.
  • Sensory processing abilities: how a child processes what they see, hear, feel, taste, etc. and appropriately responds.
  • Executive functioning: skills such as organization, sequencing, initiation, and attention.
  • Self-esteem: confidence in one’s abilities to succeed 

In a session, I may plan an activity using the climbing wall and a “just right challenge” for a child. A “just right challenge” is important in order to empower the child to show them that they are able to improve and have success. The holds from the Everlast Wall are critical in this plan. In our clinic, many of the children specifically enjoy using the loop holds with the ring attachment. 

During my time in graduate school, I wrote a thesis titled “The Effects of an Indoor Rock Climbing Program for High School Aged Students with Developmental Disabilities.” I found these common themes when I interviewed the students from the indoor rock climbing program which included: 

  • Confidence
  • New learning 
  • Generalizations to other goals/activities 
  • Applications of job skills 
  • Self- advocate 
  • Socialization 
  • Trust
  • Enjoyment and improved mental well-being 

Frequently, I recommend indoor rock climbing to families I work with because I believe in its benefits and I have the research to back it up! If you feel like your child may benefit from occupational therapy you can consult your doctor or reach out to a local therapy clinic who can answer your questions. Climb on!

BEFORE hand holds were added, the climbing wall was inaccessible to most children:

Climbing Wall at Orange Pediatric Therapy     

AFTER larger hand holds and loop holds were added, the climbing wall became accessible:

Climbing Wall at Orange Pediatric Therapy with new hand holds

Everlast Climbing is eager to help bring the benefits of rock climbing to pediatric therapy clinics and has developed two walls specifically for this setting: Adaptive Traverse Wall and Climb-Able Wall.

About the Author

Nicole Biatowas

Nicole Biatowas, OTR/L, MS, is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The University of Connecticut and a master’s degree from Ithaca College. She enjoys working with kids of all ages and has experience working with children with developmental disabilities, working with constraint induced movement therapy, spinal cord injury, seating and positioning and mental health. In her spare time, Nicole enjoys indoor rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, spending time at the beach with her family and dog, learning ukulele, traveling, camping, yoga and working out.

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