Early Intervention Teletherapy – What to Expect

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Edited and reviewed by Becky DiLettuso, MSW, Executive Director

teli has not let COVID-19 stop its important work with children who have developmental delays.  We have been providing contactless Early Intervention teletherapy now for six months to ensure families can still receive these crucial services. The first three years of life are essential to a child’s development. Electing to delay services could have enormous repercussions for a child’s development. In our current COVID-19 environment, teletherapy provides a practical alternative to in person visits.

So now that teletherapy is underway; what have we seen happening?  We spoke with four of our teli therapists across different disciplines to learn about their experience with the families they support.   While yes, it is different than being in the home, most importantly it has enabled parents and their children to continue their EI journey. And there have been some encouraging benefits along the way!

Early Intervention teletherapy offer some unique benefits!

Home Based Coaching can be delivered through teletherapy to support parents. At the core Early Intervention is the home based coaching model which is focused on assessing a child’s behaviors and skills and then modeling suggested activities that the parent can repeat with their child to address their developmental needs. Through the use of technology, either a phone or iPad or a computer, a parent can interact with the therapist in the same way they would in the home, asking questions, describing their child’s behavior, and in turn get the direction and feedback needed.

Technology becomes secondary after startup. While there are always some hiccups with technology, teli therapists were up and running quickly, within 2 weeks of the shutdown! “To be honest, it is much like face-to face and before long we didn’t really pay attention to the phone or iPad,” noted Kelly Beddall, Speech pathologist. “We engaged and interacted just as if we were in the room.”

Demonstration without “being there” works! It takes a bit more creativity!  Instead of being able to literally place a child on a ball to help their parent understand balance positioning, placing a doll on a ball and talking a parent through the activity to try with their child provides the alternative.

Resources for learning are a click away!  Finding a photo of a bear or a letter is much more quickly and easily accessed with technology to help a child better understand a concept. A YouTube video of a song to reinforce a vowel sound or pulling up a picture of a puzzle piece on the computer for a child to find a place on the puzzle they are working on is “at hand”.

Parents are the” teacher” in the room. Partnering with the therapist, the parent can model and engage their child in play more actively just as they would if the therapist was in their home providing Home Based Coaching.  As parents become more comfortable, so does their child through repetition and routines that can truly cement a developmental skill over time. Parents are feeling great pride about their important role in their child’s success.

Parents need support! In these days of staying at home and limited access to others, parents often have had more open heart felt” conversations with their therapists during this stressful time. Increasing their comfort level is so important for the child as parents begin to gain confidence in incorporating the “modeled play” into their family routine.

Routines remain central to the session. As parents work from home or schedule session after work, dinner needs to be prepared or clothes need to be washed and involving a child in that activity is extremely valuable. Learning to pair socks and recognize patterns or helping with dinner by placing napkins on the table are important skills that are all part of a family’s daily routine and assist in child development.  By incorporating valuable developmental activities into a family’s routines, a child will repeat the activity and continue improve their skills.

So what has surprised our teli therapists about delivering their services through tele-sessions?  

teli Physical therapist Melissa Winzek

For physical therapists, their therapy centers on achieving optimal body mechanics. Teletherapy sessions allow physical therapists to observe a child’s movement and recommend facilitation techniques to improve the way the child moves by using very specific language, all the while demonstrating on the device.  Physical therapist, Melissa Winzek, MPT says that she finds the use of a doll and other props are an effective way to model a particular activity as the caregiver does the same activity with their child.  She notes “I was surprised that children are very comfortable interacting with therapists on the phone or other device. As I get them to perform more motor skills or practice balance, the device becomes a positive distraction/motivator and children are having fun achieving skills and building muscle strength without realizing it.”

teli Occupational Therapist, Rose McNeilly

Occupational Therapists integrate their therapy into everyday activities such as feeding, dressing or getting ready for bed.  “In my tele sessions, I have happened upon some unusual ways to help children with feeding, new textures, and new food introductions,” explains Occupational Therapist, Rose McNeilly.  “I have found a side kick in my cat Jake who my children love to watch as we alternate watching Jake take a bite and then they take a bite themselves.”   Rose also notes that parents have been very supportive  of her efforts, “One family  has a reward system set up with their child so that if they do a good job during a session, they are able to “literally” put “me”( the phone) in their bicycle basket and go for a ride,” notes Rose! “It can be a little hair raising!”

teli Speech Pathologist, Kelly Beddall

Speech Therapy helps children develop their speech and language skills by integrating the activities into play. “I find the child is very engaged with the phone, which can be good and bad, as a child finds technology to be like a toy,” says Kelly Beddall, Speech Pathologist. “But, I try to reinforce with a child that “I hold and you look.” during a session.” Kelly is able use technology to share sounds with fun animals or videos. “One thing I realized is during this experience, is that if we were in home with a mask I would not be able to see a child’s mouth or them to see mine to repeat a mouth position to generate a sound. So, in that way, tele sessions have enabled us to do a much better job demonstrating to parents via the phone!”

teli Developmental Specialist, Karen Bowman

A Developmental Specialist helps children with motor, communication, social/emotional skills that often are associated with childhood developmental delays. “In this environment, the whole family is home which helps to make it a bit easier to observe sibling interaction and help families work on how to help children play together,” says Karen Bowman, Developmental Specialist. “One thing that had me worried was if a child could be engaged for a full hour, but I have been surprised that in fact they are! Together with the parents, we are structuring our time around routines and working play into those routines, which helps the time fly!”.

 teli Early Intervention tele-sessions provide a valuable alternative to in-person therapy.  Taking advantage of the opportunity to support your child’s development is just a phone call away. To learn more about teli Early Intervention contactless teletherapy sessions  give us a call at 412-922-8322.

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