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Speaker Spotlight: Shelley Mannell

This Speaker Spotlight edition is our first to feature a speaker who represents the field of

physical therapy (PT). Shelley Mannell is a physiotherapist (PT) who brings a unique perspective to learning with her expertise in areas such as Neuro-Development Treatment (NDT), Sensory Integration (SI), and postural control.


Shelley wasn’t always certain she wanted to be a PT, but knew from an early age that she was interested in a career as a medical professional. In high school, she began volunteering at a

local hospital where she was exposed to a variety of medical fields. However, it was her placement in the PT department that really piqued her interest. She was immediately drawn to the wide array of patients that were served. She also felt that PT allowed her more time and opportunities to develop relationships with patients while helping them regain skills and function than she might have as a nurse or physician.

While she had an interest in PT, Shelley chose to first seek an undergraduate degree in the field of biology. As her career aspirations became more clear, she entered PT school at McMaster University in Ontario where she received her second undergraduate degree. While most of her classmates were drawn to the orthopedic courses, Shelley found her passion within neurology courses, quickly developing a niche for pediatric neurorehabilitation. She was fortunate to obtain internships in both adult neurorehabilitation and pediatric rehabilitation.

Early Career

Shelley left PT school with a passion for pediatric neurorehabilitation but was quickly faced with the difficulty of being hired in pediatrics with minimal experience. She reluctantly accepted her first position in adult orthopedics where she worked for several months until she was hired at the small children’s center in St. Catharines. This job offered her fabulous opportunities for collaboration with a strong focus on continuing education. Throughout the course of her 12-year career at the children’s center, Shelley was afforded many opportunities for career growth and learning. The center was associated with a school in which Shelley was able to serve the students and collaborate with the special education teachers as well as the occupational therapist (OT) and speech-language pathologist (SLP). Other roles she took on included assistant director of the center, coordinator of the orthotic department, and founder of the early intervention team. Her acquisition of and success in these roles was supported by her passion for continuing education. While taking on several new roles as a young clinician, she was simultaneously seeking out a variety of learning opportunities, including obtaining her advanced NDT certification.

Research Opportunities

Additionally, during her time at the children’s center, Shelley was asked by a professor at her alma mater to participate in a multi-center research project on the validation of the Gross Motor Function Measure (GMFM), an outcome measure for children with cerebral palsy. Her participation as a Center Coordinator for the project afforded her the opportunity to sit in on discussions with developmental pediatricians, senior clinicians, and senior researchers regarding the development of the outcome measure as well as a companion measure, the Gross Motor Performance Measure (GMPM). Shelley took particular interest in the GMPM and its focus on assessing the quality of movement. This interest served as a foundation for her future work and teaching in the area of postural control.


Eventually, Shelley prepared to take on another role and title - mother. In an effort to create a balance between her roles as a PT and a new mother, she sought to return to her job in a part-time capacity. When she found out that her employer could not fulfill this request, she began exploring other options. By this time in her career, she had already begun taking on some teaching engagements both in NDT and postural control. Additionally, some of her client’s families began to ask Shelley to see their children with traumatic brain injuries for additional, private services. Shelley saw an opportunity to balance her passions for PT and her family and took a leap of faith and opened HeartSpace Physical Therapy for Children in her home 25 years ago, just 4 months before the birth of her first child.

For many years, Shelley served her HeartSpace clients both in her home clinic and in clients’ homes. Eventually, she desired more space with access to different equipment. Shelley approached a colleague and friend, Patti McGillivray, owner of OT4KIDS, who graciously allowed Shelley to use her clinic space 1-2 days per week. Eventually the space next to the clinic became available and Shelley saw a perfect opportunity for growth and further collaboration. She acquired the space in partnership with an SLP and the team has since built a cooperative, multidisciplinary therapy space with access to OT, PT, and SLP.

Mentors and Partnerships

Years prior to opening HeartSpace, Shelley was first connected with one of her most influential mentors, Regi Boehme. She eventually had the incredible opportunity to accompany some of her private clients to Milwaukee for intensive therapy. These intensives enabled Shelley to co-treat and further her mentoring with Regi. It was at one of Regi’s workshops where she was first introduced to someone who has become a valued friend, occupational therapist, Kim Barthel. Since then, Shelley and Kim have partnered and learned from each other in the areas of movement and postural control, emotional regulation, and the importance of relationships.

Another key partnership for Shelley has been with PT Julie Wiebe. Shelley and Julie met via a shared client and together created the approach, Dynamic Core for Kids, which addresses central stability and postural control. This course has been taught globally and is now available both live and in an online format.

After many years of interest in the sensory contributions to postural control, Shelley was able to complete her sensory integration certification online. This has allowed her to expand her understanding of postural control theory and practice to include the interdependence of sensory and motor control processes.

An Unexpected Shift

As was the case for most, Shelley encountered an unexpected need to shift her career focus with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the 4-month closure of her clinic, Shelley was able to move to telehealth visits and online teaching. Shelley also saw an opportunity to tackle a project that had been a source of interest for quite some time. She began the process of developing an online, intensive course in postural control with the goal of creating a sense of connection and community similar to that which is offered in a live course. Shelley sought to fill in the many missing pieces to create a cohesive postural control model which incorporated the roles of sensory integration, muscle tone, emotional regulation, anticipatory and reactive postural adjustment mechanisms, cognition, and the integumentary and musculoskeletal systems. During the 4 month closure, Shelley was able to write and develop Foundation for Function. Foundation for Function focuses on 12 modules related to components of postural control using dynamic systems theory as the framework. Each module includes pre-reading, a lecture, and a practical application exercise allowing participants to gain a well-rounded understanding of the concepts.

Next Steps

While Shelley continues to work part-time in her clinic, she is also shifting much of her focus to supporting the next generation of clinicians. Last year she had the opportunity to guest-lecture within the PT department at the University of Michigan on the topic of postural control. This year she will return to lecture again, this time on the topic of emotional regulation and trauma-sensitive practice. Shelley has also been invited to join an Anatomy and Physiology of Speech and Swallowing class at Brock University to discuss the intricacies of the diaphragm. Additionally, in October Shelley will teach Defying Gravity: Understanding and Treating Children with Low Tone in Vancouver and a live Foundation to Function course in Montreal.

When asked what advice she would give the next generation of clinicians, Shelley offered two key pieces of guidance. She first would encourage clinicians to be gentle with themselves, as there is a lot to learn. She would also encourage them to always ask “why?” Explaining that it’s not just about how much a client can do, but rather why and how they do what they do.

Current IE Offerings

If you would like the opportunity to learn more about incorporating postural control, motor control, sensory processing, attachment, emotional regulation, and cognition into your assessment and treatment, be sure to check out the on-demand course, Holistic Clinical Reasoning taught by Shelley Mannell and Kim Barthel. This course offers a unique interdisciplinary discussion in clinical analysis through video analysis of a variety of pediatric clients.



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