CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The coronavirus pandemic forced the public to not only change the way they conduct everyday life but also develop reliability on technology in order to complete their usual daily tasks.
For students across the nation, they saw the biggest change in their daily routines when a majority of school systems opted for online learning to keep students safe and at home.
Classes weren’t the only educational asset forced online; therapy courses for students also joined the virtual landscape.
SideKick Therapy Partners, a speech, occupational, and physical therapist firm based out of Knoxville that partners with 19 school districts across the state, also moved its operations online.
At first, it was a challenge, according to Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist, Jessica Lenden-Holt, who said they had never conducted their sessions over a video conference before.
“We were a little nervous, we were all having to learn it as we go, but since March, we’ve completed over 30,000 teletherapy sessions,” said Lenden-Holt.
The switch to online therapy happened back in March 2020, and so far it’s been going pretty well for the 150 team members that make up SideKick therapy.
Molly Kincheloe, a pediatric occupational therapist, told News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield she serves children from birth to 21-years-old. Her focus as an occupational therapist is on a child’s participation in play, socially, educationally, and in any other form that is meaningful to their daily life.
While the pandemic changed the way she sees children, she said it’s proven effective and children are learning just as much if not more than they were before.
“Students are learning, children are learning. They’re engaging, and they’re reaching their therapy goals and that’s what we’re reaching for as therapists,” said Kincheloe.
Lenden-Holt agrees that these sessions have proven effective and said they’ve even had multiple students exit special education services due to meeting all their goals. She attributes the success partially to parent participation, which wasn’t possible while conducting sessions in a school setting.
“The parents can buy into what we’re doing more, so they see what we’re doing, they see how their children are performing, and they’re able to carry over those skills because now they’ve seen the techniques we’re using and they’re able to carry that over in the home,” said Lenden-Holt.
Lenden-Holt’s focus as a speech-language pathologist is to target a variety of speech goals and skills. Some of her patients include children who have yet to form words, stutter, have difficulty pronouncing words, or need to work on social skills.
Heather Parker, a parent of a child in Carter County who attends these online speech sessions said she’s seen tremendous improvement over the past few months during this pandemic.
Her children attended Carter County Schools but were moved to homeschooling this past year due to the pandemic. Since her son was 3-years-old, he has been enrolled in speech therapy. He’s now 13.
While she initially had her doubts about moving sessions online, she changed her mind.
“It’s actually worked out better than in class did, surprisingly. With all of my doubts and everything, it ended up working out better. He has progressed more in the past year than in all the years he has been doing in-person therapy,” said Parker.
She said she’s even able to carry over the lessons taught into their daily home life.
“I get to listen to how she kind of does it, so I don’t feel like I’m floating in mid-air when I’m trying to help him. I actually have a way to guide him when I see how she’s doing things and I can say, ‘oh that’s how this works,'” Parker said.
She said she hopes teletherapy is around long after the pandemic, especially after seeing the success with her own child. Parker also said there is a stigma around the word “therapy” that shouldn’t be there. She went on to say that it really works and can positively change a life if you do the work and stick to the lessons provided.
She encourages parents to be there for their children, especially during this challenging time, and take on a support role in their lives.
Lenden-Holt said there are some common misconceptions when it comes to the idea of therapy. To start, she said therapy isn’t just all play with the kids even though it looks like that. Skills and techniques are built into these lessons to make learning fun so kids want to learn, and as an end result, they learn even quicker than expected.
She said she hopes teletherapy stays around long after the pandemic as well, especially for those children who are more vulnerable.
“We do see many children that are considered medically fragile and have not been able to attend school in person or they’ve chosen remote learning and teletherapy allows them to still have access to high-quality therapy without risking their health,” said Lenden-Holt.