Using Telepractice to Provide Early Intervention Services to Families

Editor’s note: This post was previously scheduled for next month. In light of the closures and increased demand for telepractice services due to COVID-19, we posted it now. A post scheduled for later this week will detail steps for launching new and/or expanding existing telepractice services. In addition, ASHA staff have compiled telepractice resources for members and developed a new Telepractice Evidence Map that includes summarized, appraised, and up-to-date research evidence on the use of telepractice.

I work for an early intervention practice offering speech-language, occupational, and physical therapy in Southern California. Like many early childhood service providers, we practice and understand the benefits of family coaching. We progress much more with clients when parents use tips and strategies daily, in addition to our weekly sessions.

With this philosophy in mind, our team has been piloting this approach via telepractice to serve families in rural communities with limited or no access to in-person services.

From Couching to Coaching: How do we get families engaged in early intervention? 
Using a Child’s Interests to Teach Goals in Early Intervention
5 Strategies to Help Families Act as Speech and Language Coaches
What Telepractice Platform Features Can Enhance Your Sessions?

We began by identifying underserved rural communities through California’s Department of Developmental Services regional centers. We learned each community faces distinct challenges. Some big hurdles include large distances between families that need services; families’ lack of access to cellular and internet services; and a lack of bilingual speech-language pathologists to serve the many families who speak Spanish.

Setting up sessions

Of course, part of our journey involves working with communities to identify barriers and problem-solve together.

To anticipate families’ needs, we created a technology questionnaire. This gives us an early understanding of what resources the family can access and if the family needs a computer, web camera, or internet service to participate in telepractice. Next, our administrative team helps families set up our videoconferencing platform and test the connection with a few calls. With the tests, we identify potential tech challenges before sessions, so families get the best use of their treatment time.

We also work closely with other members of the community—pediatricians, community resource centers, regional offices—who host families receiving services who don’t have internet at home.  In these situations—because the family is not in their natural environment or engaging in typical routines—we ask the family to prerecord interactions throughout their day, as directed in advance by their speech-language pathologist. With these recordings, there’s plenty to work on during a session.

My advice for clinicians navigating telepractice for the first time is focus on putting forth your years of experience and skills, rather than the screen. You’re still providing the same high-quality services you always have, just through a different modality.

Expanding our reach

Although we still work through numerous challenges in offering telepractice sessions to our early intervention families, we reap rewards in providing services to families who otherwise might not receive needed intervention. We develop positive, trusting relationships with these families—just like with our in-person clients—and see their excitement as their child progresses. In addition , we offer telepractice services to military families and those whose children are immuno-compromised.

Military families often move with little notice, and may struggle to maintain continuous services for their child. Especially with the Interstate Compact gaining traction, telepractice is becoming a more viable option. With telepractice, children of military families—or those who move frequently for other reasons—don’t experience a lapse in treatment. And deployed parents can join sessions from most anywhere in the world, allowing them to participate in their child’s development.

This spring, we are raising money to purchase 20 Chromebooks. We plan to lend them to needy families so that they can receive telepractice services.

Ryan Landinguin, MS, CCC-SLP, is CEO of RL Therapy Group, specializing in early intervention. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 18, Telepractice.

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