Working with students while they are home involves incorporating the caregiver as the tele-faciliator. This can be a challenge because not only are you working with a student that may be new to telepractice, but the caregiver may have limited to no experience with this service delivery model. I have found it to be extremely helpful to schedule a meeting with the caregiver before ever providing services. What information should be discussed during this meeting? Read on to find out more.
First, ask the caregiver if he/she would be willing to share his/her email address and/or cell phone number with you. This contact information will be valuable when technical issues arise or if they need to cancel a telepractice session. This also works well to email session reminders, appointment times, as well as platform invitations.
Second, ask the caregiver to find a quiet location in the home for the student’s telepractice session. A room that has a door and possibly a desk would be ideal to keep out siblings, pets, or any unwanted distractions. A closed door would allow the student to focus on the telepractitioner and the task at hand.
Third, if the family is using Wi-Fi, which is typically the case, have the student sit as close as possible to the router. If there are others in the household that are also using the Internet, ask to have them avoid any activity that would use the Internet while the student is receiving services. If someone is listening to music or watching Netflix while you are trying to provide telepractice services, chances are the screen will freeze, stop, or the connection will dropped. Telepractice takes a large amount of bandwidth, so if others are pulling from it at the same time, there may not be enough to go around.
Fourth, if you want to use toys or materials that may be available around the home, be sure to discuss this with the caregiver ahead of time. Ask the caregiver to have everything ready approximately 10 minutes before the scheduled telepractice session.
Fifth, ask the caregiver to have the student take care of any personal needs (e.g., use the restroom) approximately 15 minutes before each session. If the student hasn’t eaten for 2 hours, have the caregiver provide a quick snack during that time if appropriate.
Sixth, ask the caregiver to sign onto the video-conferencing platform approximately 10 minutes before the session. This allows time for any troubleshooting that may need to take place. Have him/her call or text you if he/she encounters any difficulties.
Seventh, it is important that the caregiver stays to observe the student’s telepractice sessions. With the caregiver present, there is less of a chance that the student will move out of his/her seat, become distracted, leave the room, etc. If there are any technical difficulties, the caregiver will be there to help versus the student having to leave the room to go ask for assistance.
Eighth, you may need to explain to the caregiver that he/she should let the student answer questions or perform the task without any prompting or cueing. Explain that you need to determine if the student knows the information and that is difficult when the caregiver is helping the student.
Ninth, discuss how the caregiver would like you to respond to questions during a telepractice session. Would the caregiver be comfortable writing down questions while you are working with the student? Explain that you will be happy to answer them after the session is finished.
Tenth, ask the caregiver to attempt to incorporate the skills he/she observed during the session into the student’s daily life. If the student is working on language skills (e.g. vocabulary, concepts, direction following) or even a specific phoneme (e.g., articulation therapy), explain ways the skills can be practiced outside of therapy.
Finally, I frequently mention to the caregiver and the student that if what they see on the screen does not coincide with what I am describing, they should tell me. There have been times when I have described a task in detail, pointing out items on the screen, only to find out that something I was viewing was not visible to the student. Better yet, frequently ask the student for a description of what is visible on his/her screen!
As you begin working with clients from their homes, realize that discussing expectations before providing services can set the stage for successful service delivery. Educating caregivers about telepractice can build rapport and help to get them onboard with telepractice. Enlisting a caregiver’s assistance can go a long way to wart off any unforeseen difficulties from technology issues to behavioral concerns. The stronger the partnership, the better the outcome.