As an educational community, many of us are venturing into an unknown world of distance learning and are adapting to meet family and student needs on the fly. School districts are expanding to an online instructional model where students are attending speech and language sessions from their new learning environment, home. Naturally, this can send everyone involved into an information-seeking frenzy to guide practices through this time of transition.
We are here to help.
What are the key components of a successful workspace?
Establishing an optimal workspace within your home will lead to a greater sense of productivity during your workday. Carving out space where a physical boundary can be created such as a closed-door will prevent our beloved but possibly shirtless children and furry friends from popping up during therapy sessions and meetings with parents and colleagues. Don’t have an extra room to shut that door? That’s Okay! Be creative. Dedicate a table and decorate it with pictures just as you might within an office space to simulate “time for work”.
When choosing your space make sure to consider your backdrop. The simpler the backdrop the better for your students. This will ensure your students are focusing on you and not your children’s pile of toys or your pile of laundry. No one wants to see your skivvies over your shoulder. Even though we are all managing through this work-from-home crisis, ultimate professionalism should still be the goal. It’s okay if every session isn’t perfect. Authenticity is the ultimate connector.
Think about the lighting. Set yourself up in an area that will allow you to close blinds or curtains when the sun is shining directly into your space reducing the glare on your face or presented materials. Make sure your students have a clear picture of the visual cues and therapy materials you are presenting to them.
Put me in coach! Be prepared with your technology set up to the best of your ability. Telepractice requires a few essential players: a laptop or desktop, an internal or external webcam, and reliable internet with a minimum 4.0 Mbps download and 2.0 Mbps upload (can vary pending platform used). Check your speeds at speedtest.net to make sure you are meeting the requirement. Being hardwired to your internet source will also decrease your chances of disconnection throughout your sessions.
Headsets for reducing environmental background noise (fans, humming appliances, conversations, etc.), a document camera to easily share books and the use of manipulatives, and my personal favorite, a SECOND MONITOR. This is a sanity saver and a great way to organize your session. Organizing your therapy activities on one screen to drag over to your shared screen when ready is one of the greatest things ever! Did I mention, ever?! Don’t have a second monitor? Grab a TV that may not be used in the house that has a USB plug and VOILA! You have yourself a second screen. Trust me, you will never go back.
What is an acceptable HIPAA and FERPA compliant platform for telepractice?
Our national team of educators have quickly come to our rescue:
We are empowering medical providers to serve patients wherever they are during this national public health emergency. We are especially concerned about reaching those most at risk, including older persons and persons with disabilities. – Roger Severino, OCR Director.
Please visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources-Acceptable Platforms webpage for further clarification.
How do you plan for and handle students who do not show for sessions?
Before beginning your online sessions, reach out to the parents or facilitator for the student and discuss your expectations. Setting attendance expectations upfront will reduce the number of nonattendances or late arrivals that will arise. When a student does not attend your agreed upon session day and time, the standard wait time is 10-15 minutes. During this timeframe, you as the therapist will need to actively be reaching out to the student to encourage attendance via a phone call and an email.
Make sure to note your contact attempts and the student absent within their log note. Typically these minutes are surrendered to the school when this occurs. As always before implementing this plan, make sure it is consistent throughout your SLP team and that your school’s administrators are on board.
Do I need consent from parents in order to hold group sessions via teletherapy sessions?
In general, teletherapy does not have regulations that require signed consent to hold group sessions. SLPs follow the service delivery model that is stated on the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Medicaid reimbursement regulations per state can drive this model as in some states, Medicaid will not reimburse for group teletherapy sessions. During this time of transition to distance learning, many districts are requiring either verbal or written consent from parents/guardians regarding group sessions. They are also providing letters or legal documents to inform families of the change in service delivery during this time. It is always best practice to defer to the direction of your district’s administration regarding parental/guardian consent and current state rules and regulations regarding Medicaid reimbursement.
How can I involve parents during the sessions with their child?
Reach out to the family prior to the start of your session when possible and discuss expectations of support during your sessions. Provide parents with tasks that you would like for them to engage in during your sessions such as hand over hand assistance for activities. If you give them a role in therapy from the beginning, they are more likely to be present to help during the session. Although not encouraged, if a parent is not able to sit next to the child to facilitate engagement, encourage an adult to be within the same room or within earshot of the child who is attending on the computer.
Help the family think outside of the box. Possibly grandparents, siblings or even neighbors may be available to help attend to other children or attend to the student that’s receiving the services virtually. If the appropriate level of support is not able to be provided, it is our ethical duty to let our administrators know and call an IEP team meeting to remedy the situation.
Do I need to purchase ready-made, telepractice specific materials for my sessions?
In one simple word, NO! Although there is a tremendous amount of exceptionally made materials by a variety of talented SLPs on the market, get creative! Think outside the box! Scan and upload materials you already have to share via your preferred platform, incorporate physical activity, utilize manipulatives or toys readily available in your home or the student’s home, collaborate with your team of teachers on an academic lesson or even just Google free worksheets. Get those creative juices flowing while running on your treadmill, walking your dog or even playing with your own children or grandchildren. Materials that you use during your on-site sessions can easily be adapted to your new virtual classroom.
What are resources that will keep me apprised of the ever-changing regulations and closures during COVID-19?
ASHA Telepractice Portal
Map: Coronavirus and School Closures
COVID-19 Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel
FERPA and the Coronavirus Disease of 2019
U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources-Acceptable Platforms
Stay positive fellow SLPs! You’ve got this! Through the trials and tribulations this may bring for you, you are learning new techniques and tricks for your future in-person sessions OR your continued teletherapy sessions. You are learning more about how to help your students by getting a glimpse into their daily environments outside of the classroom. You are engaging parents and family members who may not have ever thought to support their child’s communication within the home increasing your student’s progress and overall success.
Keep your chins up! You are all rockstars. I believe in you. We at TeleTeachers believe in YOU!