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Lessons learned in teletherapy.

After specializing in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for my entire career, I decided to COMPLETELY change things up. I walked away from a job that I had for 25 years and jumped headfirst into the world of teletherapy (and building a private practice, but that is a story for another day). Honestly, I wasn’t sure I would like teletherapy. Afterall, my heart and soul has been committed to supporting non-speaking students with complex communication needs (CCN). I’ve worked with some of the most challenging cases. I’ve worked with kids who had bodies that made it difficult for them to interact with the word around them. I’ve worked with kids who were forced to use their BIG behaviors to communicate because no one had given any other way. I’ve worked with school teams who were at their wits end because they had no idea how to help their CCN students grow and learn.

So, when the opportunity to provide articulation and language teletherapy services to a tiny school district in central PA came my way, I decided to be brave and jump outside of my comfort zone. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • A friend and colleague gave me the absolute best advice (Thanks, Marleah!). She told me to take the time to build rapport with my students. While collecting data is important, building trust is equally, if not more, important.

  • Before I started seeing students, I spent hours and hours looking at websites, downloading apps, and exploring all the ways to keep students motivated and engaged in a virtual environment. There are a gazillion different resources, and it is good to have a few go-to sites in your back pocket, but I quickly learned that all the bells and whistles don’t really matter. Students just want to build a connection with you know that you are invested in helping them be the best they can be.

  • I am very comfortable with technology. I can still remember the day when my first AAC device arrived at my clinic (um…in 1994). We’ve come a long way, baby! Without the advancements in technology over the past decades, we would be unable to provide speech and language therapy services from hundreds of miles away. However, I learned that when providing virtual services, people at both ends of the computer need to have adequate skills to make it all work. It might be a struggle to get everyone’s cameras and microphones working. Rural schools still have spotty internet. Some 30-minute therapy sessions may be consumed by providing technical support. Remind yourself that it is OK and that technical glitches should be expected.

  • Use your resources wisely. With “resources” I’m not talking about the gazillion websites, online games, and resources available (thanks pandemic). I’m talking about the tried-and-true resources we’ve always relied on:

    • Don’t forget about your bookshelves and materials closet. Most of these things will still work in a virtual environment. Worksheets (in electronic form – just scan them in!) are fun using the annotate feature. Younger (and sometimes older) students still want you to read books to them!

    • Check out social media for creative ideas or call some of your SLP friends to brainstorm and share ideas.

    • OK, so this might not be a “tried-and-true,” but I’ve been dabbling in using AI (artificial intelligence - It’s scary and amazing at the same time!) to create short stories, multi-meaning word lists, and context clues activities.

I am happy to report that this experience was nothing short of amazing. I’ve grown to love the silly and smart kids with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with. I’ve also learned that jumping out of my comfort zone has only made me a better clinician.

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