The ‘F-words’ of Child Development

The 'F Words' of Child Development



Moving around and getting places is a skill that empowers us to be independent and to participate in and enjoy life. We need to move safely and efficiently to be fit and to function in life. Most of us take our ability to move and get around (our mobility) for granted. For children with a disability moving around can be delayed or not happen at all without the support of appropriate assistive technology (walking frames, powered wheelchairs etc). Physiotherapists are movement specialists who love to see children develop their movement skills to their full potential so they can stay fit and healthy and do what matters to them.

The International Classification of Functioning (ICF) is a framework developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2001 and it shows us the interaction between different factors that impact on a person’s overall health and functioning in life. The ‘F-words of childhood disability’ developed in 2011 by Dr Rosenbaum and Dr Gorter (researchers from CanChild) builds upon the ICF and gives us 6 key areas of childhood development to help families and therapists understand the bigger picture and how to set goals for their children that are meaningful and relate to activity and participation. Find out more from CanChild 

Using the F-words to set goals

Starting by working out goals using the F-words helps everyone, both families and all therapists involved to have a big picture of what is meaningful and important to your family and child. It gives us a strengths based framework and ensures the team is working together to ensure your child is fit and healthy, functioning in everyday life, participating with friends and having fun and a future.

Physiotherapists have been trained to assess and problem solve ways to support your child’s movement or mobility challenges so that you can achieve the F-words goals that are important to you. They have a thorough understanding of the many different body systems (musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory etc) that contribute to fitness and function in particular.


Fitness: There are so many ingredients to developing the successful, efficient movements that are foundational to staying strong and healthy. Movement is an integral part of fitness and is needed so that children can get to where they want to go and participate in activities at school and in the community. Children who find movement tiring and difficult often tend to be more inactive which then increases weakness and fatigue so that maintaining motivation to move and be active can be a challenge. Physiotherapists can assist to problem solve the ‘just right’ challenge so that your child can be successful, gain confidence and build strength in their bodies.

Also moving with our hips, knees and ankles in poor alignment puts wear and tear on our joints and ligaments and results in pain which is another key factor contributing to poor health and fitness in children with movement challenges. Swimming or aquatic therapy, bike-riding or horse-riding are wonderful ways to stay fit and strong without damaging joints. Some children will need to wear supportive postural garments, leg splints (ankle foot orthoses) or use assistive technology to move safely and efficiently. Prevention of pain developing in the future is critical and something that physiotherapists keep in mind when supporting children with movement challenges.

Function: Most parents consult physiotherapists to assist with developing their child’s walking (and mobility in general) but movement is also the basis for all functioning and being able to do the things we want to do. For children who do have delayed independent walking there are alternative ways to independently get around and research shows that early independent mobility (by any means) increases cognitive skills and is important for developing positive self-esteem.

Physiotherapists are experts at analysing movement and understand how to promote the development of movement in a way that helps your child to achieve other areas of function. This can include being able to develop the strength and coordination to dress themselves or learn how to use the swing by themselves at the park.

Future: Physiotherapists are well equipped and eager to assist you and your child planning for the future and preventing secondary problems that might occur if a child moves in a way that puts too much pressure on their joints, muscles and ligaments. Ultimately we know that your child’s future will be more enjoyable if they are able to stay fit and healthy so they can participate in fun, family and friendships.

Find out more

Our team of passionate physiotherapists support children and young poeple with complex disability to take part in the physical aspects of everyday life to the best of their ability. Call us on 1800 XAVIER or email to check availability in your area.