To be completely honest I had my doubts when we introduced online services at AIMS Global. We, just like the rest of the world, had to adapt to a “new normal” and thus created training workshops to help our current therapists transfer their amazing “in-home” support to a virtual platform. With any change, anxiety increases in us all, but this change was especially stressful for our parents.
Parents with neurotypical children felt uneasy with schools being closed and education needing to be conducted at home. Our parents who have special needs children felt overwhelmed, understandably so. Not only were they now expected to work from home, but they were without their therapists, who have always been able to “manage the behaviors” and provide input the child possibly craved. I do believe the change of employing more virtual or online therapists is inevitable and of course exciting in many regards. Let’s discuss some of the benefits.
Five benefits of online therapy:
- You can generalize skills immediately—if you have an online therapist you will most probably need a therapy partner at home who can guide your child through the session. This is an excellent way to pick up strategies from the online therapist to the home environment and ensure generalization (which usually takes a bit of time) occurs almost instantly! It also provides you, the parents, with the power to “manage” your child’s behaviors and urges by yourself.
- You are able to fade some hours of therapy out. Most organizations will suggest eight hours of ABA therapy per day, five days a week. If you do online therapy for a couple of hours a day and then generalize these strategies to the rest of your child’s day with the people in his/her life utilizing these, you are providing him/her with the therapy tools he/she would receive from his/her therapists.
- You don’t have to drive to various therapists, sit in traffic, go to crowded spaces, etc.—Most of our families are doing an exceptional job in driving from one place to another to include all the different therapies and activities. Imagine doing therapy online and then having time to enjoy your mornings or afternoons relaxing or going on an outing with no expectations placed on you or your child.
- It is affordable! Unlike paying three different therapists per day to do hourly-rate sessions with your child (in many cases), online therapists are charged per month and prices should be lower than going to a therapist.
- You are changing, adapting, and evolving with the world. We know life is much more virtual now and this was the case even before all the different lockdowns were put in place. Change is always difficult, yet it is inevitable for growth. Most schools now ask learners to work on iPads and laptops and to type rather than write. We want our kids to always feel they are evolving with their peers and thus provide them the same opportunities their siblings and friends are receiving.
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Great, but how does online therapy actually work?
I also understand if you are working from home or may have to in the future, you rarely have hours to dedicate as a therapy partner. I want to assure you the end-goal of any good online program is for your child to work independently, as much as he/she can, and for you to have a break or time for your work or being with your other children. I am going to write about a typical online program and detail the process, but these requirements might differ to various organizations.
- Usually the organization will require your child’s latest reports and any other information you feel is important together with some videos of how he/she communicates, plays, reacts in various environments, etc. It is important any organization or therapist requests this type of information as it is crucial to always try and make the best possible fit of a therapist’s experience and passion with your child’s personality, needs, and strengths.
- You, as the parent, will typically receive a shortlist of candidates who you can choose from to interview and get to know before you make the decision of who you want to work with as your child’s therapist. It is important too that you feel empowered by the organization and are able to make these decisions together. You ultimately know your child best!
- Once you have chosen your therapist, you can start therapy—easy, right? The first week is an important time for your therapist to get to know your child and will entail more observations, where you can do fun activities and the therapist will use Zoom or Google Meet to do a video call. Once your child and the therapist have established a positive rapport, the therapist will include daily lesson plans that include the concepts (from the Individual Educational Plan created within the first week) into fun and interactive activities.
- Your role as the therapy partner will be to guide your child to engage in the activities, but you should receive training to feel equipped to do so. Typically, organizations will offer an initial training workshop to the therapy partner which will provide strategies to generalize what the online therapist does to the home environment. At AIMS Online we provide parents with a free starter pack which includes strategies they can implement immediately to ensure a conducive environment for learning.
- Typically, within the first 10 days, children are willing and perfectly able to do sessions almost independently with their online therapist and will only need assistance here and there with loading of videos or imitating dance moves.
Parents should receive feedback, video observations notes, ongoing reports, and recordings of the sessions from their therapist’s supervisor. A good online program will make you feel in control of your child’s program and progress. It will take you along the journey of supporting your child in a fun and functional manner.
I am more than happy to answer any questions or discuss any concerns you might have of online therapy. I feel privileged to be in the position where a form and type of therapy has even surprised me after all the years of working in the field.
This article was featured in Issue 118 – Reframing Education in the New Normal