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The COVID-19 pandemic has turned life upside down in many ways. One of the most significant has been the closure of in-person classes for students from preschool through college.

Schools play a key role in child and youth development, creating a safe harbor, offering both challenge and a sense of mission, fostering positive relationships with adults and peers, developing competencies and a sense of efficacy, and providing students with access to social capital, mental health supports and leadership opportunities (Osher, David & Kendziora, Kimberly & Spier, Elizabeth & Garibaldi, Mark. (2014). School Influences on Child and Youth Development. 10.1007/978-1-4899-7424-2_7.).

For children with developmental or learning concerns, the interruption of in-person classes may have created additional challenges. Many students receive services, like physical, occupational or speech therapy, at school. Transitioning from face-to-face therapy to virtual may seem daunting, but there are a variety of ways to help children get the most out of their online learning environment.

Self-regulation and executive functioning skills are more important than ever. These skills are the mental processes that enable people to plan, focus, remember instructions and maneuver from task to task. Focusing at the kitchen table may be tougher than concentrating at a desk in a classroom. Creating a dedicated learning area separate from the high traffic areas in the home can help children focus. During class and interaction time, icons should be hidden and the class viewed at full screen.

Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) are also changing. An ADL is a task that is completed as part of a daily routine for self-care, like brushing one’s teeth or bathing. Have children practice putting a mask on and washing their hands to make it a habit. A first, then approach can also help make this routine. An example of this would be to first have a child put their mask on, then do something fun while wearing the mask. Talk through this new normal with them. Going over what a new routine looks like can alleviate anxiety children may be feeling. A social story, with pictures of the child in their new routine, is also a good option.

Remember: when in doubt, reach out! It is important to know that even if education is accessed virtually and a child is struggling there are other resources in the community. Pediatric therapy centers like Theraplay, Inc. are providing a number of online and in-person tools for children and families throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. Services include physical, occupational, speech and feeding therapy and are provided in-person and virtually. In-person services are accessed while following COVID safety protocols, and allow for important social interaction that children may be missing while at home, and have additional benefits for children who respond better to this type of interaction.

Heather, a pediatric speech-language pathologist, knows the importance of keeping children and families engaged virtually. “Telehealth has increased overall parent communication and home carryover. I have had multiple families report that they are completing home exercise programs more than I ever have. Families have been very appreciative of us delivering services as their routines have completely changed, and we may be their only constant.” Flexibility and fun are also key in successfully navigating the world of virtual instruction.

Cassandra, whose son receives therapy virtually, says: “R. is an active five-year-old boy. Keeping him engaged in lessons and conversations is not always easy, but his therapist realized that and allowed for numerous breaks, or would listen when he lost focus. To add to it there were several times he decided he would wear a football helmet during therapy, and he even had a session in a box fort. His therapist laughed right along with him and asked him questions about the fort and the Legos he was building inside.”

To see some of these strategies in action, visit Speech therapist Kristen Fenner, MA, CCC-SLP is providing an overview of how to set children up for success this school year.

Theraplay is also providing free online education for parents, caregivers, educators and healthcare professionals. Their next webinar, on September 16, will be focusing on going back to school, helping children adapt and strategies for success. You can register here:

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