As soon as quarantine began in March, ICT immediately switched gears to implement virtual therapy. 5 months in, we’ve seen surprising and significant benefits to working with children online. We’ve also developed tips for preparing and getting the most out of it.
Benefits of Virtual Therapy for Children
Teletherapy is often seen as “the next best thing” to do during a pandemic, when in-person therapy isn’t always available. But we’ve actually seen that it offers unique learning opportunities:
- Virtual therapy allows therapists to join children and families in their homes, offering glimpses of the child’s home environment, family dynamics, and challenges that occur there.
- Parents can easily participate in sessions.
- Therapy can be personalized to target specific home activities, such as potty training for toddlers, or executive function skills for school-aged children.
- Therapists can collaborate with parents to problem-solve in real-time as challenges occur.
- Children can use their favorite toys or personal items during therapy, which increases motivation, engagement, and attention.
- Siblings can participate in therapy, which gives children a chance to practice therapist-facilitated social communication.
- Skills learned in therapy can easily be generalized to the child’s home environment, because the therapist is helping them practice those skills at home.
Maximizing the Benefits of Your Child’s Virtual Therapy
Flexibility is key!
- It takes time for children to adjust and adapt to online therapy, so commit to the process! Be prepared for the first 3-5 sessions to be challenging as the therapist establishes rapport and your child learns what to expect. As they get used to it, children quickly become engaged and ready to learn.
- Sessions may deviate from what’s planned, and that is okay! There is value in shifting focus and working with whatever pops up. For example, if a child is attentive and engaged, a therapist can target more structured language activities. Other times they may shift to working on increasing attention and engagement through preferred activities. Both are beneficial.
- Trust the process and go with the flow. Therapists adapt sessions to maximize motivation, and welcome siblings, pets, and anything else the child wants to share with them! Even when it feels bumpy, important learning is happening.
- Allow your child to make mistakes. Doing things wrong is part of learning how to do them right!
- Therapists can help parents and children (if they’re old enough) develop a daily and/or weekly schedule, using visuals that work best for your child (pictures, line drawings, etc.). Post this on the wall your child can identify a clear beginning and end.
- Visual timers can help children understand what to expect.
- Talk to your child about what to expect: Who they will see, how long they will be sitting in front of the computer, etc.
- Set up in a quiet, well-lit room, and remove items that are highly distracting or that might interrupt the session… but do have favorite toys, books or other items nearby to use!
- Be sure your child has adequate seating (a desk or small table and chair, for example) with space for “movement breaks”. Their device should be at eye level.
- Have your child use the bathroom 15 minutes before the session.
- Engage your child in a “neutral” activity before the session (like looking at a book), rather than a highly stimulating one (like an iPad). This will make the transition into the session easier.
- Prepare water, a snack, and a fun activity for after the session. You can even create a sticker chart or another type of reward system. This provides positive reinforcement for participating in and completing sessions.
Optimize the Session
- Get your child settled and comfortable a few minutes before the session, so you can test the camera and microphone and connect smoothly.
- Don’t worry about connectivity challenges! Therapists can help you through most tech issues (or reschedule if necessary).
- Consider an external camera if it is difficult for your child to remain positioned in front of the device’s camera (this especially true for iPads).
- Be sure your internet browser is updated, and not overloaded during the session (by other family members streaming videos at the same time, for example).
- Minimize background noise (parents on phone, TVs, siblings crying, etc.).
How much assistance will your child need?
- This will vary from child to child. But for most children, as they learn the routine and expectations, you can fade your support, sitting nearby to step in as needed.
- For toddlers, parent participation is critical to maximize learning for both your child and you! The goal for toddler sessions is to empower parents with strategies they can use at home.
Most importantly, remember that this is a trying time. Parents are navigating pandemic life, virtual school and therapy, and more. There will be good days and challenging ones. Just do your best, and know that you are not alone!