A mom helping her child with online therapy

Early Intervention and Telepractice

My son is two and he isn’t talking yet, is that normal?  Our one-year-old doesn’t feed herself and has trouble holding a spoon, is that normal?  A teenage mom with a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old is feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t know how to handle her children’s bad behavior.  All these scenarios are great examples of children who will benefit from Early Intervention.  The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part C, (IDEA) covers services for children and families from Birth through age 3.  The Preschool Program of Part B covers children for ages 3 to 5 (Section 619).  These programs mandate special education services to be provided to families and their children with developmental delays or disabilities.

So, who is responsible for identifying these students?  Referrals for students can come from a variety of people and places.  Parents obviously are the first to notice difficulties that their children are having, but not all parents will recognize these delays in their own child.  Physicians, social workers, daycare providers, preschool teachers, relatives, and family friends may be the first to recognize developmental delays or disabilities in this population. By seeking out assistance for a child, parents and educators can get crucial services that a child and their family needs. These services will significantly impact a child’s development and future educational achievements. Critical physical, social, communication, and academic development occur in the first 5 years of a child’s life.

When a child is referred for Early Intervention (EI) or Preschool services, many different professionals will be involved in developing an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) until the child turns 3 and then the team will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  The team may include a school psychologist, neurologist, speech-language pathologist (SLP), physical therapist (PT), occupational therapist (OT) or other professionals, depending on the areas of concern for the child.  The team, including the parents, will develop an IFSP or IEP that defines the areas of concern and the services that the family and child will receive.  An IFSP specifically includes the entire family; education and consultation are a key component in the IFSP.  Goals related to the child’s development are also an important part of this program.

Some parents and professionals wonder how telepractice can address these children’s needs in an online setting?  Will it even work?  If the therapist is not there, how can they get data to determine if a student will qualify?  These are all excellent questions that should be answered to address EI and Preschool services and telepractice services.  When a child is referred for EI or Preschool services, developmental assessments and parent/teacher questionnaires are crucial to get a caregiver and teacher’s perspective on where the child is functioning.  These questionnaires and interviews can be conducted via telephone or on the platform.  Many questionnaires are also sent via email.  Lighthouse Therapy’s platform allows for safe and confidential sharing of information through the security of our platform, thus decreasing the risk of exposure to Pertinent Health Information.

Therapy services are conducted via online video conferencing services.  These services can be performed in the child’s home with the caregivers/parents or in a preschool classroom in an individual or small group setting.  The clinician can coach parents on strategies and activities specifically designed to promote development in deficit areas.  The therapist can observe the caregiver/parents with the child to continually monitor progress and adjust strategies that are being recommended. In the preschool setting, a student support specialist or classroom assistant can assist the child to join the therapist in the session. The session is conducted via the platform with engaging and interactive activities.  The student may also perform tabletop activities and, using a second documentation camera or external camera, the therapist can observe the student’s activities and guide the student and assistant from there.  A wide-angle lens is great for group settings or observation of the student performing with peers or in a classroom activity.  At Lighthouse Therapy, our platform can easily adapt to all these environments and provide a dynamic and interactive experience for the students, parents, and other professionals engaged in assisting the student.

It is important for the professionals to have access to developmental norms, so I have included a few links related to Developmental Norms for Speech and LanguageOccupational Therapy Developmental Milestones Witwer Children’s Therapy, and the National Association of School Psychologists position statement on Early Intervention Services.  Many of you already have your favorites, but it is always nice to have other resources available.

These services are desperately needed in many areas of the country.  By engaging in the use of telepractitioners, these children will be given services that will be key to their future academic success.

I was invited to be a guest blogger for a colleague of mine, Nanette Cote. 

An Expanded version of this blog can be found at Speech2Me by Nanette Cote  

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