Your Intro to School-Based Teletherapy: Set Up for Success!

Children with special needs don’t stop needing education-based related services just because their schools have implemented remote learning.

Elementary school boy sits at wooden table at home, watching therapist give instructions on tablet computer in teletherapy session.With schools closed around the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to start thinking about how to deliver services using teletherapy.

I know it can be easy to focus on all the things we clinicians can’t do during teletherapy sessions. For pediatric therapists, the switch to online therapy is particularly challenging since so much of their service delivery is literally “hands-on.”

However, there’s a whole lot more we CAN do to make a positive impact on our students and their families.

Speech therapists and mental health counselors have been providing teletherapy services for years. Now, this modality is set to become part of all school-based therapists’ repertoires!

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we’re sharing strategies for serving children via teletherapy so they don’t lose skills due to a prolonged lapse in services.

Zoom: A Free, Easy FERPA-Compliant Teletherapy Solution

The emergence of COVID-19 makes teletherapy an immediate requirement for school-based therapists. But the sudden, widespread use of remote services opens the door for greater adoption of this modality in the future.

There are lots of video conferencing platforms out there with specialized interfaces for various types of therapeutic intervention. During the current crisis, Zoom makes a great no-cost way to connect with your students while they’re at home. It is considered FERPA compliant, but be sure you have the proper security settings in place.

Zoom meetings allow you and your student to see and communicate with each other in real time. You can also use the platform’s screen sharing feature to do things like:

  • Show pictures of activity cards
  • Play movement videos
  • Share music
  • Demonstrate activities on camera

Because you can have a full view of your student (and their parents or siblings) during the session, the experience is both interactive and effective in terms of your ability to provide ongoing assessment.

Zoom is free to download for both you and your students’ families, and very easy to use from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. All you need is a camera, microphone, and stable internet connection!

Getting Started with Zoom in Five Simple Steps

Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started with Zoom:

  1. Female school-based therapist sits at table in home library, communicating with students via laptop computer, webcam, and headset.Visit the Zoom website to create your account.
  2. Watch the Zoom tutorials (most are only one or two minutes long) that show you the basics of using the platform, including sharing your screen and sound.
  3. Contact your students’ families before the first teletherapy session to help them get on Zoom (if they need help), get used to interacting with them on the platform, and advise them on preparing a therapy space and activities. Remember: You won’t be on site to personally set up a safe space, so telling families how to clear a therapy area in their living room or playroom is key!
  4. Establish the session’s date and time.
  5. Invite the family to your Zoom meeting via an email you send right from the “Host a Meeting” link on the Zoom site. The instructions are easy to follow and will send the family a link to your meeting in the email itself.

Ideas for Making Teletherapy Sessions Fun and Effective

Here are some tips for getting your teletherapy sessions off to a good start!

Video and Audio Tips

  • Test your video and audio before your meeting.
  • Don’t forget to turn on your video so students can see you.
  • Have parents help position the student’s device so you can clearly see the student’s movements. Placing the student’s phone or laptop on the floor may help.
  • Look directly into your device’s camera. This tactic mimics the in-person feeling of eye contact, and makes your students feel like you’re really talking to them.
  • Adjust your device’s camera if it’s too low or too high. Your camera should be at eye level. You’ll be able to see (in a small box on your screen) what your students will see, so it’ll be easy to make adjustments.

Environmental Tips

Your surroundings are your stage. Make sure they set you up for success.

  • Clean up your surroundings. They are your stage. Make sure they set you up for success!
  • Use a simple background. Zoom also provides virtual backgrounds to help you disguise even the most cluttered environments.
  • Position yourself so most of the light comes from in front of you (behind your monitor), instead of behind you. If you have a window behind you, pull the curtains or shut the blinds, or you will be backlit.
  • Keep your space quiet. Shut your door and mute your mic as needed. For many of us, working at home with our children off from school isn’t ideal, but we can do our best!

Screen Sharing Tips

Boxed bulleted list of instructions for sharing YouTube videos on video conferencing platform Zoom, an easy teletherapy solution.

Zoom lets you share your screen with a student AND watch live feed of them performing activities, so you can provide helpful feedback.

You can find loads of videos on YouTube appropriate for teletherapy. You can start at the beginning or at a specific point in the video focused squarely on your student’s goals. Check out the links below for videos to use in your speciality.

Let PTS Help You Offer Successful Teletherapy Sessions

PTS has always been proud to support our clinicians with the tools they need to help more kids using fewer resources. Teletherapy is one more way we offer that support.

We have teletherapy ideas for practitioners in multiple therapy disciplines, including:

To talk to a PTS team member about how we can help you serve your students via teletherapy, especially in these uncertain times, contact us today.

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