During this COVID-19 era, school counselors and therapists of all types – including speech-language and occupational therapists – have been forced to rapidly adjust to the virtual environment.
Also known as telehealth or teletherapy, this is the therapeutic model with which National TeleTherapy Resources speech-language therapist Sandy Broderway is most familiar.
And, having practiced teletherapy for more than a decade, she understands the best practices and advantages of using this model as well as the challenges schools face, both leading up to and during the start of the 2020-21 school year.
“So many schools are asking their current therapists to learn telehealth on the fly,” said Broderway, founder of National TeleTherapy Resources, an organization that partners with schools in offering telehealth services like speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, behavior therapy, mental health services, and so on.
“Our organization’s been working all these years trying to increase awareness of teletherapy and the benefits of incorporating virtual services into special education programs,” Broderway added. “And then, seemingly overnight [due to COVID], there was quite a change where more schools are viewing teletherapy as a possible way of reaching and treating more kids who need specialized services.”
But, despite this change of heart and the realization in the potential of teletherapy, schools from wide rural districts to more populated urban areas have experienced a rapid learning curve, which has led to multiple challenges.
Fortunately, National TeleTherapy Resources offers solutions that can help schools and districts of all sizes to overcome the challenges they have faced due to COVID-19, which will no doubt continue to affect districts well into next school year.
Some of these challenges include:
Challenge 1: Translating Therapeutic Services to Virtual
According to Broderway, one of the first struggles schools and their therapists/counselors encounter when entering the virtual world is how to effectively offer treatments through a computer screen.
“Speech-language therapy, and especially occupational therapy, can be very complex and hard to wrap your mind around how to effectively offer it online,” she said.
THE SOLUTION: National TeleTherapy Resources has been partnering with schools to train their on-site therapist(s) on how to develop teletherapy in their districts and how to most effectively deliver services to the children who need it.
Challenge 2: School Resources
With in-school education temporarily suspended and therapists scrambling to develop solutions for continuing services for students in need, many school caseloads have become backed up. The inability to offer in-school group sessions has only compounded the issue.
“This made it so therapists who often already have greater caseloads than they can handle now have to play catch-up, and do so with more one-on-one sessions,” Broderway said. “This can become completely unmanageable.”
THE SOLUTION: When resources are lacking, or they simply need help catching up, National TeleTherapy Resources provides schools with additional therapists and tools.
“As people go back to school, there’s going to be a lot of compensatory sessions to be made up because of COVID,” Broderway said. “We can help by providing therapists to help the schools during this time. Having a team of therapists who don’t have to travel from school to school, we’re able to cover more sessions in a shorter time.”
Challenge 3: Attendance
Children and their families are already having to adjust to schooling at home. Ensuring children in need are able to attend their virtual therapy and/or counseling appointments can become an issue – one that can hold back progress and development, possibly affecting other aspects of their education.
THE SOLUTION: National TeleTherapy Resources ensures students, parents and guardians get regular reminders of appointments, from a day out to as close as 30 minutes before the start of sessions. The team also helps schools determine, and overcome, potential barriers causing kids to miss their appointments.
Challenge 4: Compliance & Service
As Broderway’s been working with some schools who are transitioning over to virtual therapy and counseling, she’s noticed many encounter compliance issues.
“It’s a monumental job to transition from on-site to online services almost overnight,” she said. “Add to that the complicated laws and regulations, and it’s no wonder schools are finding this difficult to navigate.”
Also, many of the larger services and platforms lack the level of personalized training and services needed by schools and the kids they serve.
SOLUTION: Broderway said all online tools used by National TeleTherapy Resources are HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act) and FERPA (Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act) compliant.
As for service?
“Our ultimate focus isn’t on the school or the therapist or even the teletherapy platform; it’s to help the kids and make sure they’re getting the services they need to soar in life,” Broderway said. “It’s because of this that we provide schools with the highest levels of service possible – from simple training to providing our full scope of services.”