When I started teletherapy sessions, this is how I would summarize my feelings and experiences:
- anxious like any change in life
- always on my toes during sessions
- literally too many tabs open in my mind and on the computer
- brainstorming ideas to make sessions interesting
- making mistakes, improvising and learning
Mistakes were the norm. For e.g. I usually send resources to parents a day before my scheduled session. For one of my sessions, the parent mentioned that they didn’t have a printer at home. Hence, no resources. I was in a fix. What can I do? Cancel the session? I was running around like a headless chicken, as parents watched all the confusion unfold right in front of them. Lesson learnt. Keep a back up of online interactive activities aligned with your session goals.
Therefore, this blog-post is a sneak-peak into how teletherapy became an enriching and humbling learning experience. I have renewed insight about how speech therapy works online and what I can achieve. Like every change, this too was scary. I am grateful to my colleagues and many super SLT’s out there who have guided me.
Preparation is key – Yes! The bedrock of teletherapy. If you fail to prepare, you are doomed. You won’t be able to grab a game from the shelf and ad lib, as you did during pre-corona times from the comfort of your therapy room.
Key things to do: Send the session goals and printable resources a day before to the parents. Be prepared with both online games and ready to use resources at the same time.
Start with a trial– At this point of time, speech therapy may not be a priority for some parents. Understandably, with e-learning and working from home, parents have a lot on their plate. So, respect their decision.
Key things to do: Offer them a trial session of 15 -20 minutes, so that they can see for themselves as children engage and learn during the session.
Know your child– If you know your clients well, you can plan and keep activities handy if at all there is a meltdown. For e.g. Most of the children I see are in their preschool stage, so I started using a ‘teddy bear’ or a ‘dinosaur’ as an assistant in my session. For e.g. I would introduce the teddy bear, keep it within the child’s view and show them how teddy behaves throughout the session. Good sitting/Good listening/Good hands.
Children are mesmerized to watch a teddy bear sit patiently through the entire session.
Key things to do: Get creative and use reinforcers that your children enjoy.
Go easy: At the beginning, start your sessions with simple goals so that the child gets comfortable being online. The key is get them to sit and engage for 30 minutes to 45 minutes.
Key things to do: I split up my one hour sessions into two 30-minute sessions per week, so that it was easier on the kids. It has worked well for me and the parents.
Give confidence: During these uncertain times, parents are worried if online sessions are helpful? Are they doing the right thing?. Alleviate their concerns by sharing recent researches about teletherapy and it’s effectiveness. Also, listen to them and offer help with regards to learning.
Key things to do: Follow up with the themes and lessons done in school, so that it can be incorporated into your sessions. Take advantage of their school lessons to help maximize their understanding and use of language.
It’s OK to falter: Absolutely! Making mistakes and learning from it is the part of the process. It’s OK to be technically challenged (including me). Spend some time learning the basics of using technology, look for resources that serves your purpose and finally the intention is to keep sailing forward.
Key things to do: Make it for fun for the kids and have fun too in the process.
Be realistic and transparent: Few types of goals may not be achieved fully during teletherapy. For e.g. speech sound goals where I would expect the child to watch my face closely and imitate movements.
Key things to do: Clearly communicate your goals and expectations to the parents.
Stay afloat: It’s all about survival in this current situation. Helping yourself and helping others is key. Some parents have lost jobs and have had to take pay cuts. Be sensitive to these issues and try to do your best to support them.
Finally, I have free resources for you to download and use in your sessions. These checklists are helpful for parents and professionals. I would recommend you download/print/laminate them. Use a white board marker to tick the boxes and it can be used multiple times.
Keep moving forward!