I want to start off this blog post by saying I do not do teletherapy full time, but I do want to share my background with you. In graduate school I had two clients through teletherapy, ages 9 and 4. I also did my graduate thesis over perceptions of telepractice in the school setting, and I did a poster presentation on this at my state conference. Previously I did VIPKID which teaches Chinese children English over the internet. That is where I learned how to keep students motivated and engaged. If you would like to see some other great SLPs who do this full time check out Lady in the Box, Whimsical SLP, and Stacy Crouse on Instagram or TPT.
Motivation & Engagement
Recently I wrote a post on ways to keep your students engaged during therapy sessions (you can check it out here). I never thought I would have to be writing again so soon on how I do this through teletheraphy. My main go to product? Find A Star (FAS) activities. Not only does it help keep your students motivated, but it also helps keep you on track time wise. Stars are hidden under pictures and numbers. Students must find all 5 stars before the session is over. I normally like to have they choose a number/card every few minutes. I use the pictures on the cards to ask questions, and prompt further language. Students are being rewarded, while still targeting their goals! I let students choose numbers/images based on their ability to stay focused, not on their ability to perform a goal area correctly. This keeps the sessions positive, and the FAS something to look forward to.
Something else I use a lot to get students engaged are props. That can be something that you have already around the house, or something you find on Amazon. My go to props are giant eyes, ears, and microphone that I printed off and laminated. The students usually laugh at the over sized props when I put them on my face. I use them to indicate to students that I need their eyes and ears on me if they are getting distracted. The microphone is perfect for the students who need some prompting to talk. Remember that for most of our students this may be strange to them talking to a computer.
Now this may be different for every person. Make sure that you have a space that you can set aside to do your therapy sessions. Have an old corner of your house that you don’t use? Great! I find it easier, and less stressful, if I have a dedicated space to work at rather than setting up my station everyday. This allows me time to not worry about setting time aside for setting up my work station everyday. Now I understand not everyone can do this, but think outside the box! Finally, use backdrops to your advantage. Maybe put the FAS on the wall behind you as a reminder to keep your students focused. I also have a blanket on my lap as I like often get cold if I am sitting in one place for too long. remember to take breaks, and get up and move around! If you can set up your computer on a platform you can stand at that is even better.
Just because therapy is now done through the computer, that doesn’t mean you can’t still do the things you normally do. If you like doing themes to keep yourself centered (like me) then keep doing that! If you are a bit more individualized, keep doing that! Therapy is as unique as you and me (and that’s ok).
What if your student can’t stay seated? Send them on a scavenger hunt around their house for certain items. If they are a student who will wander off and never return, set a timer for them! You can also do charades with the students, or brain breaks using videos like Go Noodle.
What if your students doesn’t talk? Remember receptive communication and auditory bombardment that we were taught in school? Yes, that is perfect for a time like this! Students may not understand for a little bit that you are the same person asking them to do the same things they do at school. You are no longer in the environment they are use to, you are now inside their homes.
What if I freeze!? That is bound to happen at some point! Have a list of questions you can ask the student. This can make you ready for any situation, and help warm both you and your student up for the day.
Messing Up, Boundaries, & Grace
You are human. You will mess up, and that is okay. It can be a bit stressful knowing that the parent is their while you are doing your sessions. Remember, you are the professional. Trust your schooling, trust your experience, and trust your gut. Your students may run away, or cry, or not talk at all the first few sessions, and that happens! Remember what it is like when you see a new student face to face, that can be hard too. If a parent is trying to take over a session, do not be afraid to ask them for less input during your sessions. That also works in the opposite way, maybe your parents think that teletherapy is free babysitting. If you need a parent to stay in the room, tell them that. Taking out the physical proximity that face to face therapy brings only means you need to increase your communication with the parents. Going from therapy at school, where you see the parents once a year at IEP meetings, to seeing them every week is not only new for you, but also for them. Give yourself grace.
If no one has told you today, thank you for all that you are doing.