Many schools and school districts started the 2020-21 academic year with hopes of establishing a “new normal” in which traditional classroom learning, albeit with safety precautions in place, could resume.
But, as of this writing, the resurgence of coronavirus infections across the U.S. means distance learning is again the order of the day in many places. Until most of the U.S. population can be vaccinated in 2021, school closures—short- or long-term, partial or full—will continue to disrupt students’ education.
Fortunately, school-based related service providers have plenty of resources for remote therapy at the ready.
When schools initially shut down in the spring, Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) pivoted to delivering our services at a distance. Here’s a brief overview of some tools and techniques we’ve used to support students during remote learning.
We hope they’ll give you ideas and encouragement!
Techniques and Tools for Making Online Therapy Real Therapy
Without a doubt, distance education is often hardest on students who rely on special instruction and supports to succeed in school. But, with persistence and creativity, therapists have found ways to reach these students during distance learning and minimize disruptions to the services these learners depend on.
A reliable and regulation-compliant teletherapy platform is the ideal solution. When the therapist and student have working computers, web cameras, and a stable internet connection, video therapy can occur.
And, it can be real therapy.
Properly implemented, remote therapy isn’t about students passively watching their related service provider on a screen. It’s not about watching pre-recorded video after video (though asynchronous instruction has its place). In fact, it’s far from it!
- Occupational therapists can still help students get the sensory input they need.
With some careful planning and coordination with students’ families, OTs can design sessions using common household items to keep kids on their sensory diets. These interventions can further encourage the generalization of the skills students are mastering.
- Physical therapists can still keep students moving so shutdowns aren’t sedentary time. Muscle strength, motor development, and range-of-motion don’t have to stop simply because school is closed. PTs can demonstrate strengthening exercises, yoga poses, and fun walking challenges to get and keep kids on the go.
- Speech Language Pathologists can still nurture students’ articulation, language, and literacy skills. When they’re face-to-face in cyberspace with their students, SLPs can lead many of the same exercises and play many of the same games they do during in-person sessions. They can also add exciting, interactive, online-only options to the mix.
- Behavioral therapists can still introduce and reinforce desired behaviors.
For example, Virtual token boards, digital social stories, single and multiplayer social skills games can all be applied by behavior analysts. Such tools help facilitate students’ replacement or modification behaviors that impede their educational progress and success.
- School psychologists can still assess and address students’ mental health needs.
Secure video conferencing platforms can easily handle Individual and small-group therapy sessions. Practitioners can too, especially when using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has been shown to be well-suited to remote therapy for some time.
Staying Connected with Your Students During School Closures
No matter their specialty, all clinicians can use the internet to connect with—and serve—students and families in several ways.
If possible, don’t just reach out to your students when it’s time to work. Help them express and process all they’re feeling during periods of distance learning. If the student’s IEP or your schedule can’t accommodate extra online meetings, reach out via email.
Consider also offering a supportive listening ear to students’ parents or other caregivers. You may even discover needs you can help meet by connecting them with school or community-based resources.
If you haven’t set up a professional online resource (website or social media) students can freely engage with, think about doing so now. And, obviously, be sure to keep your professional and personal online presence strictly separate.
In addition to interacting with students, you can post tips, techniques, and activities families can use at home to support their kids and keep them on track toward their IEP goals.
The pandemic has highlighted the persistent digital divide in the U.S. Some of your students may not have a reliable internet connection capable of supporting remote therapy. Phone calls and good old-fashioned “snail mail”—postcards, weekly newsletters, focused handouts—can foster your continuing connection with these students during school closures.
In-Person or Online, Join PTS in Doing More Good for More Students
At PTS, we know online therapy can’t completely take the place of in-person sessions. But, we also know clinicians can creatively use education technologies to help students make continued progress toward IEP goals.
We’re always looking for licensed therapists (or soon-to-be licensed therapists) passionate about making a positive difference for students. Are you looking for a position where you can do so—in person or via remote therapy? Review our currently available jobs and get in touch with us today!