Important Considerations When It Comes To Pediatric Teletherapy

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our ability to innovate and continue to provide skilled therapy through a different means. Teletherapy has challenged clinicians in multiple areas of healthcare, but especially in the pediatric physical therapy realm. Virtual learning and online therapy appointments have also created unique challenges for patients and families. Below see some considerations of what to expect when engaging in pediatric physical teletherapy sessions.

What should you expect as a caregiver? 

  • Therapists should establish a relationship via phone call or text prior to your appointment. 

    All of us are being stretched in different ways during this season of life. The therapist will reach out prior to a session and remind you of the common goal of providing care to your child to advance them to the next therapeutic level. You can freely share any concerns and also communicate what the home environment looks like to allow for session planning.

  • Trial sessions for set-up with platform chosen prior to an appointment.

    Nothing is worse than wasting precious therapy time attempting to tackle technological issues! Setting up a trial run prior to a true session will also allow for rapport building and provide space for troubleshooting.

  • Ensure materials are within reach during the session for yourself and the therapist.

    It is intimidating to be taking directions from an expert, especially when trying to engage a little friend! Before a session, you should expect a quick message about the materials needed for the current session will help both parties be prepared. Both therapist and caregiver can discuss resources and allow for carryover of activities outside of sessions.

  • Set clear expectations.

    Pediatric physical therapy is likely going to be hands on and require assistance from the you. Setting expectations for involvement, such as assist levels, duration of session, and limiting distractions will decrease frustrations within treatment sessions. This may require adjusting therapy to accommodate time when other siblings are napping, in school, or being cared for by another adult. However, don’t forget that other family members may be motivators, and can be incorporated into sessions!!

  • Mindset – recognize your own anxieties and bias.

    Teletherapy is likely a new skill for most clinicians, and they can also feel worried about providing it on this platform. Take a moment to acknowledge that fear. Communicate any questions or concerns during the session to allow for optimal treatment. You’ll be surprised how sharing in this will help in creating a culture of teamwork between clinician and family!

  • Clinical judgement – maintain ethical practice.

    Teletherapy is a tool that we have as clinicians but is not always appropriate for every patient. As a clinician, we will continue to evaluate the appropriateness of intervention, the quality of therapy, and maintain ethical standards as committed to under our licensure. Caregivers, do not hesitate to voice any concerns about this platform and consider alternative strategies for treatment as needed. Session duration, therapy activities, and goals may need to be adjusted.

  • Scheduling reminders.

    Although it is a different setting, we all need some help remembering. Consider utilizing scheduling reminders on a consistent basis personally to ensure no therapeutic time is missed!

Within a teletherapy session, preparation and flexibility are key. Below are some reminders to help with this platform.

  • Adjust the camera frequently for activities.

    Engaging on a video platform requires extra effort. Both the caregiver and therapist must communicate when adjustments to camera view are needed when explaining and exercise, performing a therapy activity, or observing a motor skill.

    • Use of visual aids.

      Your therapist might use a platform such as Google Slides or PowerPoint. This may allow activities for kids to be communicated to clearly. Using photos of favorite TV show characters, videos, and songs can be helpful for motivation and engaging each child individually.

  • Have fun!

    Therapists will be using big movements, songs, and silly faces for engagement. Using large expressions,  singing songs, and making silly faces will help make therapy fun and engaging through a different platform. Simple but frequent rewards provided by the clinician and the caregiver assisting will keep the child motivated and encourage participation throughout the session.

There are many benefits to serving patients/families via teletherapy:

  • Comfortability with the environment.

    Both caregivers and therapists alike understand the challenge of engaging a child in a new environment at the clinic. Teletherapy offers a unique opportunity to serve you in your own environment.

  • Carryover of therapeutic activities.

    Serving a child through teletherapy allows for a perspective of their home environment and personal resources. It allows both the therapist and caregiver to think creatively about how to perform therapeutic activities in their everyday routines.

  • Empowerment of caregiver and therapist.

    Teletherapy requires the caregiver to be extremely engaged in activities, but this can empower you to care for your child with a newfound confidence. The therapist must perform skilled coaching through clear communication which will improve clinical communication overall. The common goal of advancing each patient to a new therapeutic level can be achieved uniquely through the means of teletherapy.

Audrey Harsh, DPT