Making the Most Out of Your Virtual Therapy Session
I've been hearing from a lot of other therapists and families that virtual therapy has been "challenging" or "not working" for their child. To help support families and other therapists make the most out of their virtual therapy sessions, here are some of the strategies that I use that are successful in fostering engagement and continued communication development.
Make sure your child is "mentally prepared" for their session. No one likes to be caught off guard, or worse pulled away from an exciting activity. Prepare your child for his/her virtual therapy session by explaining that you are going to have a meeting with your therapist. You can start by telling your child in the morning and then reminding them closer to the start. Provide a clear transition into the session from whatever the child was doing prior by clearly ending that activity. For example, if your child was playing with his/her cars, clean up the cars before starting your session. For younger children, creating a visual schedule of the day with a picture to remind him/her of the therapy session can be helpful.
Create a space clear of distractions. Either sit in a room with minimal distractions or set up a designated area for doing therapy. A designated area could include sitting at a table, sitting on the couch, or even sitting on a small blanket together. If your child is younger, have them sit in a highchair for a portion of the session to help maintain their focus.
Be prepared to play an active role in your child's therapy. There is very little chance that your child will want to interact with just a person on a screen for the duration of the session, but if you interact with the therapist and your child, your child is much more likely to remain engaged! Take this time to learn new strategies and activities to use throughout the week with your child. Think about how quickly your child will progress if you are using similar strategies every day! Two important tips I'd like to offer to caregivers is to limit test like questions and statements like "say this" and "do this" and instead try modeling the behavior you would like to elicit AND keep it fun! Having fun while learning makes the lessons much more memorable and enjoyable (for little ones and adults too)!
Make sure that your child has something tangible to engage with. Talk to your therapist beforehand about what you should have available for your session - toys, books, crayons, household items, or even a small snack. Children should be actively engaged rather than passively watching a therapist.
Start and end sessions with routine activities. This could be a song or movement activity. Using routines creates predictability for your child. When a child is able to anticipate what will happen next, they are more willing to engage and participate in more challenging activities.
Allow for some movement time! Kids learn best when they are moving. Research shows that physical activity enhances basic cognitive functions related to attention and memory. Allow your child to get up and stretch or talk to your therapist about how you can incorporate more movement activities into your session.
Make sure to schedule "screen free time" throughout the week too. "Screen time fatigue" is real, so if your child is engaging with screens frequently for education and therapies, make sure to schedule some "screen free" times--either play, reading books, family meals, or going on a walk--to support your child during times that do require screens.
Similar to in-person therapy, not every session will be "perfect" or go as planned. Take this time to talk to your therapist about how you can best support your child throughout the week and discuss what is working and not working during your sessions to plan for success in future sessions. If you have any questions or any of your own tips for making the most out of your virtual therapy session, please let me know!