So here we are.
I am not a teletherapist- and you're probably not, either, since you're here, reading this blog article! As an SLP, I'm used to in-person sessions, with regular, old-fashioned toys and games. But, one of the many things that has changed since COVID-19 has struck, is that I am now providing services for my clients who use AAC (augmentative alternative communication) via teletherapy.
I wanted to share what I've learned so far, so you can avoid the headaches, mistakes, and save time in learning how to do teletherapy with your clients who use AAC.
This is HUGE for me. I use my document camera I made out of an old webcam and mic stand to model on AAC devices/low-tech supports (i.e., my iPad with AAC apps and a core vocabulary board). This allows the client to see your device on their big screen, as opposed to you holding it up to the camera that views your face and modeling awkwardly next to your face. You can find document cameras on Amazon, but I recommend making your own if you're doing teletherapy temporarily- I'm pretty sure it's cheaper to buy a webcam (or use an old one) and find something to duck-tape it to than it is to buy a document camera (at minimum the good ones cost $99).
Don't make the mistake of flying by the seat of your pants. I know we do this with in-person therapy, but it's much harder to manage with teletherapy (at least when you're new to it). I email the parents suggestions of toys/games/crafts we can use to keep my client's hands busy if they have challenges attending to the screen. If they are able to attend to the screen for 30 min or longer, I pull out a book, puzzle (virtual or not virtual- I use my document camera to read physical books and play with real puzzles), or other engaging activity the client may be interested in. If they aren't engaged within 2 minutes of the activity, I ditch it and move on. I have a bunch of activities uploaded in my browser ahead of time so I can move on to the next activity quickly and easily so I don't lose their attention.
Now is a great opportunity to coach the family members of your client who uses AAC. I have been using my sessions to fund AAC devices and helping parents complete the necessary documents online, to help parents find new ways to target core vocabulary, and to teach them how to use their child's AAC device.
If your parent has a device, is aware of how to use it, and knows all of the features of the device, you can also coach them in ways to motivate their child to express new words or sentences! Give them ideas for how they can use the AAC device in their home during their daily routines.
If you want more screens on your end, or your client's (this could enable you to see your client's face and your client's device, for example), you and your client can log into the teletherapy session (e.g., through Zoom, Theraplatform, etc.) with another device with a camera. I logged into my laptop and desktop recently for an additional camera on my laptop for modeling and booksharing. Make sure that you mute and turn the volume off of the additional device so you don't create massive amounts of feedback.
If your client does not have an AAC system for home, now is your opportunity to fix that. Send the parent or client core vocabulary boards (there are free ones you can download on my website), communication books, app recommendations, etc. You can also contact your local AAC device representative and loan a device for a trial. Right now in April there are many sales for AAC apps because it is Autism Awareness Month. Side note- if you're an SLP, take advantage of free AAC app downloads so you can model on an iPad and share it with the document camera. As SLPs, it's our responsibility to be sending devices, communication supports, and visual supports home so the family can use the AAC system effectively.
In order to get better at Tele AAC, you just need to start. My advice is to:
1) Get a document camera
2) Prepare for your sessions in advance
3) Coach the parent or in-person facilitator
4) Use more screens
5) Provide the client an AAC system for home
Sure, things will happen.
Kids will run away from the computer.
Parents will forget about their session they had scheduled.
Your website game you had planned will freeze.
But, the only way we can become better at teletherapy as SLPs is through actually doing it!
I hope that this article helped you find out what to avoid and what you may need before your sessions with your clients who use AAC.
Reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any further questions- I would love to see if I can help you further!
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