How Teletherapy Services Can Expand Your Special Ed Program’s Reach

Use This Easily-Implemented, Cost-Effective Way to Serve More Students

Young male elementary school student holds tablet, ready to begin teletherapy session with female school-based therapist.It was the stuff of sci-fi not so long ago. But today, most of us take for granted the ability to talk to someone, across town or around the world, while seeing them on a screen in real time. 

When webcams are built into computers and “Skype” has become a verb, it’s no wonder video conferencing is making an impact on how clinicians deliver therapy. Teletherapy services are increasingly viable in several disciplines, including speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

We’ve always taken advantage of technological advances at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS). We regard innovation and invention as essential to success in providing related services. Our 20-year reputation as therapy tech leaders and our Edison Award show it!

When distance (among other factors) threatens to keep students with disabilities and disorders from fully accessing their education, we gladly turn to teletherapy services

What Is Teletherapy?

In special education, teletherapy (or telepractice) means using modern telecommunications technology to perform assessments, consultations, and/or interventions remotely, instead of in person. 

Teletherapy isn’t watching online videos. Real therapy happens, in real time. (As needed, of course, clients can record and forward video or audio clips to clinicians for review and interpretation.)

And it’s not passively looking at and listening to a practitioner. The therapy is as interactive and as customized as it would be were it taking place in the school building.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) states teletherapy “must be equivalent to the quality of services provided in person and consistent with adherence” to its ethical code. Other professional organizations such as the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) hold members to similar standards of high quality telepractice.

Ultimately, teletherapy services “are not intended to replace traditional on-site therapy,” Dr. Sue Grogan-Johnson of Kent State University writes. Instead, these services can expand access to therapy from trained, qualified professionals for students in underserved schools—for example, in rural or inner-city settings. 

And location isn’t the only limitation teletherapy can overcome. Whether the need stems from therapist shortages, budgetary considerations, school refusal, or a student’s specific disability or disorder, telepractice can become a vital bridge between clinician and child.

One Possibility: Teletherapy in Occupational Therapy

You might grasp how online therapy can replicate the on-site speech therapy experience. Therapist and student can use live video conferencing for assessments and evaluations, flashcard drills, phonology games, reading comprehension activities, and more.

Female therapist wears a headset and sits at laptop computer with webcam mounted to screen, delivering teletherapy services.But what role can telepractice play in occupational therapy (OT), for example, which so often involves tactile, “hands-on” intervention?

It can be “difficult to imagine” equivalent teleservices, allows Melanie Joy Criss, writing in the International Journal of Telerehabilitation. Yet she goes on to describe an effective online, live, interactive program for improving students’ handwriting.

The OT demonstrated specific fine and gross motor activities for students via webcam, and consulted with “learning coaches” who helped students implement strategies. On average, measures of students’ handwriting performance improved 6% over six weeks.

Now you can imagine how OT teletherapy services can help students learn such skills as cutting with scissors or working on sensory integration. They can also connect teachers and paraprofessionals with skilled clinicians who’ll share strategies for helping students achieve OT goals.

Similarly, some physical therapy (PT) screenings can take place via telepractice. Students can demonstrate the therapeutic exercises they’re using to improve their balance, gross motor skills, coordination, and strength. Then, therapists can demonstrate and coach kids in new ones.

Three Big Benefits of Teletherapy Services

Whatever discipline it’s used in, teletherapy delivers several definite benefits, including these:

  • School districts can expand services in a flexible, cost-effective way.
    Teletherapy services deliver big benefits to students without dealing a big blow to your budget. Telepractice doesn’t require exorbitantly expensive computer equipment; you may not need to buy any new equipment at all, and can use your schools’ existing internet connections. You also won’t need to pay for therapists’ travel expenses, since they can provide services from anywhere.
  • Families gain a new resource for helping their students.
    Telepractice increases therapy’s value by carrying it beyond the school setting. Because sessions occur online, clinicians can record them and provide them to parents and guardians for review. These recordings become a rich resource for helping students practice the skills they’re working on in therapy sessions.
  • Students actually look forward to and enjoy teletherapy sessions.
    What one Australian therapy facilitator told researchers is true for students elsewhere: “Kids are like a sponge when it comes to technology… [T]hey love the headphones… the little microphone… the interaction with the mouse and those sort of games.” Telepractice capitalizes on students’ fascination and facility with digital communication. It makes therapy fun without making it any less effective. 

PTS has always focused on removing all barriers, physical and otherwise, that stand between a student and his or her education. 

If you’d like to find out more about how our teletherapy services can help your program break down those barriers, call us today at 610-941-7020 or contact us online.

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