Engaging Pediatric Clients in a Teletherapy Setting

pediatric teletherapy

Learn more about how to get started in pediatric teletherapy in the recording of our live webinar, “Virtual Pediatric Therapy: Assessment and Intervention Using Telehealth as a Service Delivery Model,” presented by Jenny L. Clark, OTR/L, on Thursday April 23 at 1 pm ET, available to everyone! Watch now.

So many of us have been thrown into remote care in the last month or so, and we have all scrambled to learn how to provide services via telepractice. The situation has been frustrating, energizing, confusing, and amazing—often all at the same time.

Once we’ve mastered the nuts and bolts of using the video conferencing platform, our thoughts quickly turn to how to best engage our clients remotely:

  • Will the materials our clients are used to still work in this environment?
  • Will our students be as engaged as they typically are in-person?
  • What are some activities available that I can use in teletherapy that will be engrossing for my clients?

Before Your Teletherapy Appointment

First things first! Let’s do a quick review of some basics that are needed prior to even thinking about engaging your clients in teletherapy:

  1. Ensure you know how to use your videoconferencing platform. Try it out with family members, friends, and colleagues so you are comfortable with it before you jump in with clients.
  2. Check your environment. Make sure your background is professional. Conduct appointments in your home office, not your bedroom. Check that the lighting is good so your client can see your face.
  3. Pay attention to body mechanics. Make sure your seat is comfortable and schedule breaks to stand and move so you don’t injure your back.
  4. Contact your client’s family members. Ensure they know what time to log in, how to log in, and that there is an adult nearby.
  5. Know how to perform basic troubleshooting. Keep support numbers close at hand in case a problem arises.

Selecting Clients for Teletherapy

The next step is to take a look at your caseload. It is important to determine whether or not your clients may be appropriate candidates for telepractice. While there is limited research available on client selection, we can turn to our professional organizations to provide guidance. ASHA, for instance, recommends considering four different areas to assist us in determining client candidacy:

  • Physical and sensory issues
  • Cognitive and/or motivational characteristics
  • Communication characteristics
  • Client’s support services

The AOTA provides a downloadable Telehealth Decision Guide to help providers make decisions as to whether a client is a good candidate for telepractice. Once we review the recommendations of our professional associations for each of our clients, we may find we need to adapt what we are doing to meet our clients’ needs.

Choosing Activities for Telepractice

Take a look at your caseload and recall what activities clients enjoyed when you were working in-person with them. Did they enjoy hands-on activities? Worksheets? Games? What was their favorite topic to talk about? These details will assist you in determining what is going to engage your student in an online environment. Once this information is collected, you have a starting point from which to find materials that will engage your client.

As you search for appropriate materials, it is important to remember that children from preschool through high school are accustomed to interactive materials in the age of technology. Also, it is imperative to prepare for sessions ahead of time. Clinicians need to open their browsers and prepare tabs with the interactive websites they will use during therapy along with any worksheets or other materials, which should be kept in a folder for each student.

Initially, it is crucial to over-plan therapy the first couple of weeks since it can be hard to predict how students will react to teletherapy. Being over-prepared helps ease nerves as you know you will be able to provide services for the full minutes of the session.

Finally, be animated! From the client’s standpoint, you’ll be appearing in a small box on a screen, and they’ll typically only see your head and shoulders. Use lots of facial expressions, smile, and gesture with your hands. These actions will help your student enjoy your activities.

Choosing the right materials is critical to engaging students. Use age-appropriate websites that are visually easy to follow and view and allow students to click, write, or otherwise interact with them. Interactive websites that are a good place to start include:

Many clinicians enjoy using animated and interactive PowerPoint or Google Slide presentations that clients can engage with. Authentic materials such as photos or videos of the client’s home, backyard, or neighborhood can also assist with engagement. If a client needs manipulatives, have a parent find items at home such as toy cars or trucks to push or pasta or beans that can be dropped in a jar that can be used to count correct responses.

Remember, telepractice is similar to providing services in-person, and often you can engage students in a telepractice setting in the same way you would if they were in front of you. Be prepared, know your students, and relax! You’ve got this.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“Post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this Post should be construed as legal advice from MedBridge, Inc., or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.