School-Based SLP Services in the Time of COVID-19
Part 1: REOPENING SCHOOLS
How to Prepare for Teletherapy Services
“But I’ve never provided teletherapy before!”
The abrupt nature of school closings in March 2020 and the immediate conversion to online education and service provision gave SLPs zero time to adequately prepare for this instant change in service delivery.
Neither did it allow time for school districts to develop an engaging and unified online teaching/learning experience that would be beneficial to students, parents, and teachers alike. There are so many factors for SLPs to consider in preparing to continue providing teletherapy services this Fall. Hopefully, the summer break provided school administrators with an opportunity to determine how best to provide instructional options to families, to develop plans for reopening buildings safely, and to select and/or consolidate the instructional platforms to be used for distance learning. Provision of special education and compliance with state and federal regulations constitutes an additional dimension to consider in this process. Presence Learning has identified four components that are essential to successful implementation and delivery of school-based telepractice services.
A. Systems and Technology
Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) have been providing services from a distance for decades and web-based, synchronous platforms
have become the cutting edge of teleservice provision.
Web-based, synchronous platforms require an internet connection, a computer, and a webcam for all participants, as a minimum. Other requirements include:
access to or use of additional equipment,
a distraction-free environment,
a technology troubleshooting plan, and
a means of securing student information and privacy.
You can reduce background noise and improve sound quality by using headsets with microphones. Visual and auditory input must be optimal for both SLP and students, especially when working on goals that address speech production, such as apraxia, articulation, voice, and fluency. A wide-angle external webcam might also be a good investment as they can be adjusted to observe play and social interactions within a group.
In the past, school-based SLPs have faced challenges finding appropriate spaces to conduct in-person therapy, but when it comes to providing teletherapy services, establishing the best environment possible is essential to success. Students receiving therapy at home will need:
a hard-wire or a strong WiFi connection,
line-of-sight supervision by parents or older siblings,
appropriate lighting, and
a quiet environment.
SLPs providing therapy from home, in addition to these same conditions, should consider and eliminate/reduce any factors that could potentially disrupt a session, such as pets, kids, household traffic, doorbells, etc. Therapists should also make sure the background viewed by everyone is neat and professional, as well as engaging for students.
Although technology today is continually improving,
issues will arise and you need to have a plan to help
deal with problems when they occur.
First, make sure you have multiple avenues for contacting those involved, such as parents, students, supervisors, tech advisor, etc. Take the time to get to know everyone, identify preferred contact methods, and establish a clear means of communication from the start. Determine how you would like to be contacted as well. Will you accept email, texts, and phone calls, and if so, will you use your personal address and numbers? If not, what alternatives have you made available? Keep a list of relevant phone numbers and contact information handy during every session.
Compliance with federal guidelines have been relaxed during the pandemic out of necessity, but it is essential that you educate yourself regarding all relevant FERPA and HIPAA regulations, as well as distinguish between those web-based and electronic systems that are in compliance and those that are not.
Check out Zencare’s Best Teletherapy Platforms article for
pricing, features, and rating comparisons.
Also, ask about any district-level requirements for security of information. Although exceptions are currently allowed due to the pandemic, use of telepractice will very likely continue as a permanent component of speech-language service delivery in the future, so it makes sense to select and utilize an appropriately secure and functional system now to avoid having to switch or upgrade platforms in the future.
Check back soon for the next installment in Part 1: Reopening Schools,
“How to Prepare for Teletherapy Services – B. Client Considerations.”
In the meantime, please share your thoughts
and ideas in the comments below.