Tips For Teletherapy
Teletherapy is a growing field. Most professionals (e.g., speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, etc.) were pushed to take on teletherapy during the start of COVID-19. Although in-person therapy sessions have resumed, many professionals have continued to stick with this mode of delivery (including myself!) , as it has been proven to work. Additionally, it offers perks to both the patients (so convenient to receive therapy right in the home setting), and the therapists.
With this advanced technological world that we live in, there are plentiful resources online to present to our older children who can complete teletherapy independently. However, with our little ones (e.g., ~2-4 years old), teletherapy requires a bit more planning. It entails more parent education, more redirecting, and overall more thinking-on-the-feet. Given the right tools, however, it can be extremely effective, and SO much fun! Read below for more tips.
- Check in with Parents
- Before the session starts, always make sure to ask the parents how they’re doing. Like everyone, some days/weeks can be difficult for a variety of reasons. When a parent decides to take on teletherapy with their youngster, it requires mental and physical effort on their part. Let the parent know you care and actively listen. After all, when a parent feels good, the child feels good.
- Give Parents a Blueprint of How Sessions Go
- Expectations are everything, right? Parents are essentially the therapist’s hands during teletherapy, so effectively communicating with the parent is necessary. Letting parents know what to expect from a session is key. Before starting the session, take some time to let them know what goals you’re targeting (e.g., “Today, we’re going to try to have your child follow 1-step directions, imitation of syllables, etc.”) and how you’ll be targeting them with parent collaboration (e.g., “It is important to use ____”).
- Use a routine
- Start off each session with a “hello” song, and end each session with a “goodbye” song (many can be found on YouTube). Not only will this target prelinguistic skills such as waving / greeting, as well as following 1-step directions (e.g., “clap your hands”), but over time, it also helps the child understand when the session has started and when it will end. If it is developmentally appropriate for your child, it also is a good idea to utilize visual schedules. Building routines not only optimize the flow of sessions, but it also is observed to actively engage children and increase overall attention.
- Switch up Activities
- Even with the most engaging activities, it is natural for little ones to get bored and lose interest after a while. It is recommended to have various activity options of different formats. For example, instead of having 4 YouTube videos pulled up as options, have 1 YouTube video, 1 computer game, 1 interactive powerpoint, and 1 game that requires tactile manipulatives (e.g., toys, play-doh, sensory box). Although routine is important, it is equally important to keep it fresh and exciting and keep the child curious, with “What will I see next?”.
- Use HIGH energy
- Have that cup of coffee, or 2! Because with the little ones, it is essential to make every little thing seem like THE most exciting and fantastic object/occurrence. Jump for joy, cheer on your child, dance with them… If YOU are excited and engaged, they will be too. I know sometimes it can be hard via teletherapy to keep that energy up. Unlike in-person therapy, teletherapists generally lead a more sedentary workday with a lot of screen-time, which can affect energy levels. Make sure to stretch and move around. It makes a true and positive difference.
- Get SILLY
- Simply put, if you are having fun, the child will have fun. Make sure to smile and laugh with them. Be silly! We want the child to look at you as their friend that they play with, and not as a teacher/therapist, because as the research shows, play therapy is how children learn most effectively. If you are genuinely having fun with the child, the child will connect with you and gain skills so much faster.
- Check out Interactive Powerpoints
- Check out “Green Screen Teletherapy Group” on Facebook to find interactive powerpoints that therapists have so generously shared, for free! Interactive powerpoints can be used as Green Screen activities, or simply presented via powerpoint. Interactive powerpoints promote that element of surprise, which helps keep the children motivated to request (e.g., “more”, “open”), as they are curious. Speaking as a speech teletherapist who works with the early intervention population, it is one of the most effective ways to keep them engaged.
- “Surprise Activities”
- Piggy-backing off the previous point, “surprise activities” are always a hit with the youngsters. How could they not be a little curious to see what’s inside of a bag/box? What if it’s the coolest thing ever? Tip: Even if it’s a common object (e.g., spoon, pencil, etc.), if YOU act like it’s the coolest thing, they will undoubtedly be intrigued and want to see more. Below please see a sample of “surprise” activity idea to bring to your session.
- Include Snacks
- If all else fails, include food! Encourage mom/dad that it’s okay to have a little snack nearby. Not only will it help your little one stay put, but you can utilize the food snacks as part of your therapy session. For example, you can have the child “feed” a toy to work on symbolic play, understand basic verbs (“eat”, “drink”), follow 1-step directions, work on turn-taking, and so much more.
- Be gentle with yourself
- Remember that some sessions will not go as planned. Perhaps, the child skipped his/her nap or is not feeling well. Some sessions may involve more crying, more elopement, or decreased interest… Remember, that’s okay sometimes. Instances like that occur, even during in-person sessions. Give yourself grace, and stay positive. One session may go phenomenally, while another does not. It is all part of the process.
The biggest recommendation of all is to have FUN. If you, the clinician, are having fun, the child will pick up on that energy. Please click on the link to guide you through a surprise activity ( Peek-A-Boo Sock Activity ) with the early intervention population. You got this!
-Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer