As a Team Lead for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) serving a large metro school district near Denver, Colorado, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted our work. We’ve had to shift all 86 SLPs and their services to more than 3,000 students onto remote learning platforms. I also work with the Colorado Department of Education Autism Network and we’ve shifted to providing all training and mentoring of educators to online platforms. In both roles, I’m seeing a significant increase in the need to support students and families of children with communication difficulties through remote platforms and a range of service delivery models. During this difficult time, we have also seen the need to tend to our own mental health and the mental states of our clients and families as we navigate the crisis response to this pandemic.
Helping Patients to Continue Receiving SLP Services During COVID-19
We have tried to support SLPs in our district to meet families where they are comfortable and build from there. Our SLPs are offering a range of services to make progress toward treatment goals. Some of the services we are offering are direct treatment with students on a virtual platform in individual or small group sessions, or through joining and co-teaching with general education or special education teachers in their classroom virtual meetings.
Another option being used is an indirect model of consulting with families on their children’s goals and working with them on strategies they can utilize in their homes to target their goals. This home program is then monitored with families regularly to track progress and modify or adapt strategies to continue growth.
Our SLPs have also been providing many materials to families by either posting activities related to the child’s goals to a Google Classroom or making videos of themselves practicing a strategy and emailing or posting the video for students to use.
SLP Successes and Challenges During COVID-19
We’re seeing both successes and challenges in client progress during this time. As we work with clients with communication impairments by definition, learning new systems and needing to communicate in different ways can be challenging.
Patients can continue to make progress toward their goals if they stay in communication with their SLPs and find a method of service that works for them. SLPs are willing to work in many different ways and can help patients continue to make progress if they’re willing to navigate multiple ways of doing a treatment.
Utilizing Telehealth During COVID-19
During social distancing, telehealth can often be a great alternative if the technology is available and clients and/or their families are willing and invested. In my district, families were given opportunities to pick up technology from their schools to increase access and Comcast has been offering free internet to families in our area, which has supported our technology accessibility greatly.
I provide support to SLPs who work with clients that range from newborn to 21 years old and with skill levels ranging from mild to significant needs. Most SLPs have found that if students and families are willing and invested in continued speech-language services, teletherapy can be done.
For most school-age children, direct sessions through a video platform have worked well. For our younger learners and those with more limited attention to the screen, we’ve found that caregiver coaching and supporting a caregiver to implement strategies has been effective through telehealth.
The students of our district come from more than 130 countries and speak more than 160 different languages so the use of interpreters on our calls and video platforms has been critical. We are using informal assessment measures to continue evaluations through telehealth and have found that some formal assessments for speech and language may not be able to be given to fidelity on this platform.
How Families Can Help Patients During COVID-19
If families are able to provide their children with safety and security then a child can be regulated enough to be able to learn. When our clients are in a ready state for learning, we can more easily get through the challenges that come from changing to new platforms for delivering services.
Families can support their clients by helping to schedule appointments and set reminders for when it’s time for therapy. They can also help their clients log into the therapy platforms to get started. Most importantly, families can join the therapy sessions to understand the goals and see the strategies the SLP uses to either facilitate their patient’s participation or to carry over the treatment into other parts of the day or week.
The Lasting Changes of COVID-19
I think we will see lasting changes to SLP services in both educational and medical settings due to the COVID-19 response. We’re working through both client progress reports at this time and survey results from the SLPs about what has and has not worked with remote learning so that we are able to make more informed plans for the future.
As I receive feedback from SLPs and see student progress notes, I can say that the results from the integration of caregivers into speech-language services have had an incredible impact. We are seeing that goals are being met and exceeded when caregivers are involved in the treatment sessions. I think families are also seeing the value of therapeutic services in both educational and medical settings, and are cherishing the quality of the therapeutic interaction for their clients in a very deep way.
About the Author: Jodi LeGray, CScD, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and Adjunct Research Fellow of Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMUoHP). LeGray, who is a graduate of the RMUoHP Doctor of Speech-Language Pathology program, works as a Team Lead for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) serving a large metro school district near Denver, Colorado.