How to help your child to achieve their goals during the COVID-19 pandemic
Written by Emily Hayles – Physiotherapist and Owner, and author of ‘Braver than you think: How to help your child with a disability live their best life’
Well, hasn’t a lot changed in just one week! The rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus has led to rapid changes in social distancing recommendations, which has then led to us rapidly adapting our ways of supporting children with their development in a way that will limit the spread of the virus in our community.
We have successfully been using telehealth for several years to support children who live in rural and remote locations, or in other towns a long way from our clinic location. Telehealth is a great tool to deliver quality therapy and care to children with developmental delays or disabilities – it is just different to what many of families living in urban areas are used to.
For those parents who are not familiar with telehealth, this blog post will outline what telehealth is, as well as the key benefits of telehealth services for your child with a developmental delay or disability.
So, what is ‘telehealth’?
Telehealth is a term that refers to the delivery of health care services and support via any telecommunication technology. A telehealth service can consist of videoconferencing, phone calls, emails and text or other direct messages.
Telehealth can be used for many situations including assessment, direct therapy, parent education, teacher education and support, monitoring of home programs, virtual stakeholder meetings, equipment trials and prescription, and problem solving.
There are some obvious differences between in clinic appointments and telehealth – your child’s therapist is not physically in the room with you, and you will be at home instead of at the clinic. However, much of the rest of the session is essentially the same:
- Your child’s therapist will ask questions about how your child is going and any progress or issues you would like to discuss
- Your child’s therapist will assess how your child is going, by watching your child move or seeing how they perform the activities they are working on. If your therapist needs to see a specific movement, they will give you specific instructions on how to do it so you can do it with your child and your therapist can watch
- Your child’s therapist will still use their clinical reasoning skills to problem solve your child’s movement patterns, thinking strategies, or functional skills, and provide you and your child with recommendations on how to improve their skills
- Your child’s therapist will still give constant feedback on your child’s performance so they can adapt and improve with practice
- Your child’s therapist will still engage your child in the therapy activities, providing encouragement, motivation, and positive reinforcement for when they are doing things well (or feedback for when they can improve)
- Your child’s therapist will still give you and your child recommendations on things they can continue with at home, to continue to carry over the gains made in the session in their everyday life
- Your child’s therapist will still follow up with other people involved in your child’s care such as other therapists, equipment suppliers, teachers, daycare educators, or therapy assistants to ensure everyone on your child’s team is working together.
As you can see, besides the physical presence of the therapist and the location of the appointment, not much else in your child’s session will be that different.
What are the benefits of telehealth?
Telehealth provides some additional benefits over in clinic appointments. Read our list of benefits below:
- Telehealth allows for even the highest level of social distancing:
- Telehealth allows you to continue therapy in situations where you need to stay away from other people to prevent the spread of illness. This might be necessary for children who are immunocompromised or have complex chronic illnesses. Or, as in the current situation – when we are in the middle of a pandemic outbreak. And even if things get worse, and your community needs to shut down and everyone must stay at home – your child can continue working towards their goals and improving their functional abilities under the guidance of their usual therapist.
- No travel is required:
- No need to make sure you have snacks packed for the kids, no loading the kids into the car, and no tricky transitions when you arrive (or leave!) the clinic. The travel time you would normally need to get to the clinic can be used for other activities. And no travel costs (which would apply if your child’s therapist would otherwise be coming to your home)
- The activities are done with your child’s things in your child’s environment (instead of using our things in our environment):
- Practicing activities with your child’s things in your child’s environment means you are more likely to be able to replicate the activity so that your child can practice it again later – which will lead to more opportunities for them to improve.
- While telehealth sessions are frequently held when you and your child are home, it doesn’t just have to be home based sessions – we can do telehealth sessions at other locations such as daycare, kindy or school to support your child and the people that help them in those environments.
- You will learn a lot from your therapist:
- In face to face sessions, when your child is working directly with the therapist, the therapist is the one ‘doing’ the therapy. It is their hands supporting your child, they will be thinking and analyzing in their head and adapting the activity in response to what they can see, and they are verbally directing your child. Alternatively, in a telehealth session, your therapist instead becomes your coach – they will watch what is happening, problem solve together with you, and provide you direct feedback about how you are supporting or facilitating or helping your child. Your therapist, in effect, helps you to get better at helping your own child.
- It can be empowering for you as a parent:
- The transfer of knowledge from your child’s therapist to you during a telehealth session can be very empowering. You can then share that knowledge with other people in your child’s life, and advocate for your child confidently.
- If delivered well, the outcomes of telehealth sessions can be just as good, or sometimes better, than in-clinic sessions:
- The reasons for this are due to the benefits outlined above – the session and activity is being practice in your own environment, with your own equipment and toys, and the therapist is coaching you and your child to improve your child’s performance. Put all of that together, and the likelihood of you being able to replicate the activity later, and build the activity or strategies into your child’s everyday life are much higher than if you have a therapist doing the therapy in a clinic setting. The carry over potential of the therapy session is greater.
- Siblings can be more easily entertained:
- When you come into the clinic, it can be difficult to keep siblings occupied whilst also concentrating on what your child is doing with the therapist or what the therapist is saying. During telehealth appointments at home, your child can play with their own toys, can go outside, or watch another TV program and are therefore less likely to be as distracting as they are at a clinic.
- Interacting over a screen might really motivate your child:
- Some children are captivated by screens and find it more difficult to interact with adults. If this is the case video telehealth sessions might be really motivating for your child.
- Your options and choices of therapists for your child is increased:
- Instead of only being able to see and get the support of therapists who live in your local town or who are close enough for your to travel to, using telehealth you can access therapists from anywhere in Australia or in the world.
- You can have people join you and your child for appointments – even if they live far away:
- If you want to do a joint session with two of your child’s therapists, then that is easy – they just both log in together, even if they live in different towns/states/continents!
- If a grandparent or an Aunty or Uncle who lives a long way away wants to see how your child is going – they too can log in and join your child’s session. This is a nice way to help involve other family members in your child’s care.
The current Covid-19 pandemic has come quickly, and the impact from this virus and the required social distancing measures are likely to be necessary for many months. We don’t want children to be missing out on therapy while we wait for this to pass, as this could have a negative impact on your child’s development. However, with telehealth, you can rest assured that your child’s therapy and developmental progress can continue, even in these most challenging of times.
If you are interested in switching over to telehealth services now, please don’t hesitate to speak to your child’s therapist or therapy service.
Author note: Almost every therapy service across the globe will be working hard to move over to delivering telehealth services over the next several months to ensure they can continue to support children with their developmental needs while we ride out the Covid-19 pandemic. Many therapy services are small businesses with teams of passionate, giving and caring therapists. This is a difficult time for small businesses like ours everywhere and we encourage you to support not only us, but all the local businesses you engage with. Thank you.