Virtual OT, What Can It Be?
Silly COVID… you took my child’s occupational therapy away…
Don’t worry… we’ve got your back! We can deliver your child’s occupational therapy services virtually. Some people call it virtual services, telehealth, or telepractice, and others call it crazy! While it may seem overwhelming to start, eventually, you, your child, and the therapist will develop a routine that works. I have been participating in virtual services for several months now, which doesn’t sound like a long time, but I can tell you, that to me, it feels REALLY long! I can share my experiences and let you know that there are definite ups and downs, and while it can take more than one session to develop a productive strategy, in the end, it works out.
As I mentioned, there can be ups and downs… let’s tackle the downs first…Virtual therapy services require a bit more work from both you and the therapist. For example, it calls for more time and planning on the therapists’ part when communicating to let families know about meeting times and supplies that will be needed prior to the session. Also, during face-to-face therapy, if an activity is not going well or doesn’t take as long as we think it might, we have all of our supplies/games/activities to fall back on; however, in virtual therapy, overplanning is a must. For you, virtual therapy can require more work based on variables such as your child’s age, attention level, and skill level. You may need to be present for some or all of the virtual session to assist the therapist, whereas, during face-to-face therapy, that wasn’t necessary. You will learn to be an extension of the therapist and under their guidance, use strategies, give cues, and provide assistance as needed for your child. Another downside, if your school system is participating in remote learning, this is one more Zoom link and appointment for you to keep track of. Last, you will need to gather the supplies needed for virutal therapy sessions.
Now, out with the downs, and in with the ups! There are many upsides to virtual services. The most obvious is increased health and safety during the COVID pandemic by decreasing you and your child’s exposure to others. Virtual services make it easier to attend if you are trying to manage and balance multiple or busy schedules. It also allows you to be more involved in the therapy process by being a part of it all. Additionally, to foster your child’s development, there are different techniques that can be used during virtual services that may not have been introduced during face-to-face sessions. Another perk, is that even before the COVID pandemic, I observed a large shift in our society and culture to being technology driven. Using virtual services goes hand in hand with that shift and forces all of us to explore the world of technology.
If your child is participating in virtual services, below are tips that make for greater success.
- Maintain an open line of communication between you and the therapist. Often I either email, call, or text a parent in preparation for virtual sessions. At times technical issues arise and need to be addressed by both therapist and family. Share your preferred method of contact – email, phone call or email.
- Work with the therapist before starting virtual services regarding what type of supplies your child will need. Occupational therapy tends to be creative… you may be asked to bring kitchen tongs and Q-tips to virtual sessions and they will be used like they never have before! : )
- Set up your child’s work area appropriately.
- Always remember 90, 90, 90! This is the ideal seated position for anyone to work in. It means your elbows should be bent at 90 degree angles to rest on the tabletop, your hips should be bent at 90 degree angles while seated in a chair, and your knees should be bent at 90 degree angles to keep your feet flat on the floor. If you do not have a child-sized chair and table at home, you can place objects under the chair to get the feet touching a surface instead of dangling (i.e. a cardboard box), and you can place something on the chair for your child to sit in, similar to a booster seat.
- When possible, have your child face towards a wall or something with less visual distractions.
- Keep the work area as quiet as possible to limit auditory distractions.
- Organize supplies used during virtual services and keep them near.
- Be flexible. While technology is helpful, it has a mind of its own at times and we need to go with the flow when something isn’t working.
- If your child is about to participate in virtual services, engage them in physical activity/movement prior to the session to get their wiggles out and help them be more attentive.
- Pat yourself on the back because you are doing all that you can to help your child succeed, and you are doing amazing! Don’t forget to high-five that awesome kid of yours for working so hard!
With this insight into virtual services, hopefully I have answered your questions, given you an idea of what it might look like, and alleviated any stress about having your child participate. We look forward to “seeing” you and your child!
Written by: Madonna Smith, OTR/L