I am no exception to the age-old rule that for human beings, change is difficult. In 2000, I adamantly rejected installing a computer jack into my home office because I never thought I would use a computer in my practice. My office, home to my private practice, had been filled with toys, workbooks, puzzles and puppets used in my speech therapy lessons. The integration of technology in treatment was, at the time, a foreign concept and stubbornly contested. Now, unable to interact with my clients in-person, teletherapy is my only option to ensure the continuity of services. Today, we are all being challenged to embrace the unfamiliar. While daunting at first, I must admit that teletherapy has proved an invaluable tool in enhancing speech and language treatment.
I have known for many years that parent involvement is crucial especially for my youngest clients to progress in therapy. Research has shown the importance of training parents to practice therapeutic tools in their daily interactions with their children. Consistent practice throughout their day is critical to the child’s progress and is underscored by the unique bond a parent shares with their child. Parent-therapist collaboration has been a cornerstone of my treatment plans for years. Little did I know that with my discomfort of technology, teletherapy would enhance this practice and partnership.
As therapists, we keep a child engaged by being physically present offering cues, engaging their sensory motor skills to explore toys and interact with people. With toddlers, and especially those with communication disorders, it is nearly impossible to keep them engaged for a full session through the screen. The real challenge is how best to engage both parent and child. Therapists are trained to evaluate and treat a variety of communication disorders both for children and adults. Parents, however, only need to learn how to facilitate the goals necessary for improving their child’s individualized plan. Many parents have embraced working with their child on the other side of the screen. They are trying new things and loving the impact they can have on their child’s growth and development. Of course, on my end, there is endless planning. Before the session, I advise parents on what they’ll need for the activities so that we can do the same thing on each end of the screen. I’ve played ‘Ring Around the Rosy’ with a puppet and made “play clay” from scratch. Resourcefulness is key. Parents, look around your home and you will find treasures waiting to be played with by your toddler or preschooler. A ball and laundry hamper becomes basketball, or empty water bottles are transformed into bowling. A small pot and wooden spoon can be a drum or used for pretend play while you are preparing dinner.
While times are still uncertain, I hope that we can learn to see the benefit that teletherapy offers. Teletherapy has been a godsend to the children I work with and their successes are made possible by the parents’ unwavering commitment and involvement. Once therapists can safely work in-person with the children, I hope that parents continue their partnership with their therapist and take an active role in their child’s therapy. Empowerment is key, and whether physically together or apart, I am certain we can overcome these challenges together.
Toby Reich, M.A., CCC- SLP is a speech and language pathologist with a private practice in Kew Gardens Hills and is an adjunct lecturer at Queens College. She treats communication disorders in toddlers, preschoolers, and school age children from 5-18 years of age. For more information, visit her website at tobyreichspeechtherapy.com or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.