An OT’s Experience with Virtual Therapy and Helpful Tips on Getting Started

With COVID-19 numbers increasing, some schools have now transitioned to full-time remote learning. That means your child will learn through a virtual format in your home. If your child is a new preschool student or you have never had to navigate online learning before, then you may be overwhelmed.  I can empathize because In March 2020, I was thrown into virtual therapy without training. Before then, I was a school-based occupational therapist who sat next to my students each session. Fast forward eight months and countless Zoom sessions, and I have learned so much. In this blog I will share a little bit about my experience and provide you with some helpful tips to prepare you and your child for their virtual therapy sessions!

I have learned that each session is unique and I feel successful when I can get the student to attend to the tasks and make progress towards their goals. I have always been the type to thrive off of preparation, so each week, prior to a session, I email my families with their Zoom link and a list of items needed for our session. This gives each family time to prepare. If they do not have an item, they just email me back and I readjust the plans.  I have found that parents appreciate the advanced notice and it allows me to maximize  minutes during a session. If I had students gather materials during the session, it  would waste time, and treatment  would not be as effective.

If you are on the parent side of the screen, you may be wondering what you need to prepare for these virtual therapy sessions. Let’s start with the technology. I am not a technology genius, but I recommend having the basics:

  • Well –lit space 
  • Portable device connected to the internet (phone, laptop, tablet)
  • Portable device sitting on a sturdy surface (tripod, table, phone propped up)
  • Device with video settings (Camera/Web Camera)
  • Speakers
  • Microphone

All of these features will allow you, your child, and therapist to communicate and provide each other with critical feedback during the session. This feedback is important because the therapist is unable to provide physical prompting during the session. They are also unable to see the whole environment, such as sitting postures, the table, chair, or environmental distractions. Therefore, the therapist relies heavily on parents/caregivers to be their eyes and hands during each session. I find the parent/caregiver support very beneficial because there is now family training built into each session. How amazing – to provide them with strategies in real time! This educational piece is very important since the true magic of therapy occurs when the adult and child incorporate these prompts and activities into their daily routine. This is when you will see the child’s skills begin to carry over from the therapy setting into their natural environment. 

Your therapist may suggest that you  build a toolbox that will contain materials that are commonly used during sessions. Depending on which therapies your child receives, their toolbox will differ. For example, if your child has physical therapy, then they will need an open area to move around in, balls, steps and possibly balance beams. If they receive occupational therapy, they may need an open area, as well as a table and chair to complete fine motor tasks.  Below are some items I recommend my families keep nearby for occupational therapy. Of course, a lot of students like to explore and play with the toolbox outside of therapy (which I highly recommend).  

  • Dough
  • Coins and Coin Bank
  • Beads and String
  • Scissors
  • Writing and Coloring Utensils
  • Blocks
  • Dry Erase Boards/ Dry Erase Markers
  • Stickers
  • Construction Paper
  • Pom-Poms or Cotton Balls
  • Play balls

If a family does not have an item, there’s no need to go out and spend money. Instead, we can use other common household items to complete fine motor tasks. For example, if a family does not have lacing cards, then we make one using a cereal box, hole punch, and shoe string. This works out great because the child gets to make a craft that he/she is proud of. The hole punch works on hand strengthening, while the lacing motion addresses fine motor and bilateral coordination skills. I call that a win-win! 

With all of the stress going on in the world, I think we need some small victories! If you are just starting therapy and have questions on how to create a toolbox, then I would recommend talking with your therapist. Talking with them will allow you to create an effective and unique toolbox that is catered to your child’s individualized needs!

-Brittany Stout, OTR/L