Like in a growing number of school districts around the country, telepractice has become an integral part of the speech-language therapy program at Sparta Area School District. Our online speech-language pathologist (SLP) provides therapy for, and manages about, 25% of our speech-language caseloads, while our three on-site SLPs split the remaining cases. When we implemented this about five years ago, telepractice was a relatively new concept so there were a few worries from our SLPs and special education staff:
- Will telepractice work for the students?
- Where in the school will students conduct online speech-language therapy?
- Who will manage the scheduling?
- How will parents react to their child being placed in online therapy as opposed to the in-person therapy?
We figured out the answers to these questions and the program is working well for our district. Here are three tips for getting buy-in from your stakeholders.
Debrief and address concerns. As soon as we made the decision to move forward with telepractice, I contacted our school principals because they would be the individuals fielding any phone calls or emails from parents. We gave them talking points, videos demonstrating telepractice, and supporting research to help their conversations. I also told principals I would be happy to discuss the services with any families who had questions. Next, I had our SLPs personally call each family of the children selected for telepractice. They explained how the services work, why their child was selected, and offered to connect them with me if they had any questions. I received very few calls from parents because they know our team does everything it can to prevent a lapse in service. Lastly, our district SLPs introduced the students to their new online SLP.
Be selective in assigning students for telepractice. Telepractice is a viable option for most students, but students with more severe needs may require additional support in order for the telepractice session to be successful. Our SLPs hand selected which students would participate in the telepractice program and I asked our SLPs to keep an open mind. If it turned out that a student was not a good candidate, we would put him or her back in on-site therapy.
Create communication and other support protocols. Our online SLP does an amazing job connecting with teachers and families to share student progress and with our special-education secretaries to coordinate scheduling and the IEP process. Providing the online SLP with the appropriate contacts and giving them free reign to connect paves the way for making telepractice work. Additionally, on-site paraprofessionals or aides ensure students get to therapy on time and help students enter the online speech environment and troubleshoot the very rare technology issue.
Even though it seemed like a risk at the time, telepractice has become an asset to our program. It increases our flexibility to better balance caseloads, decreases travel time for our district SLPs, and ensures our students are getting the services they need.
Peggy Jadack the director of pupil services for Sparta Area School District in Sparta, Wisconsin.
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