play based therapy FOCUS

All Therapy at FOCUS is Play-Based Therapy

At FOCUS, all of our Fort Myers therapies are play-based therapy.

Of course, play can be a lot of fun for as adults too – but the real reason we use a play-based therapy model in our speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapy sessions is simply because: It works.

Study after study shows that when we engage kids in a play-based model of therapy, they’re going to be more engaged, excited about therapy – and they’re going to better remember the skills we’re trying to teach them.

“We never say, ‘Ok let’s go back and do some therapy,'” explains FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “No, we say, ‘Hey, are you ready to go play?’ Kids don’t even realize they’re doing ‘work’ – and that makes it more enjoyable – and ultimately more effective.”

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy, feeding/swallowing therapy, occupational therapy, behavior therapy, and physical therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Planning a Play-Based Therapy Session, Sept. 2, 2013, By Meredith Poore Harold, ASHA Wire

More Blog Entries:

FOCUS Therapy Take on New CDC Developmental Milestones Guidelines, Aug. 1, 2022, Fort Myers Play-Based Therapy Blog

FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers

FOCUS Therapy Only Schedules Evaluations if We Have Space to Treat Your Child

Evaluations are an important step in the process of securing speech, occupational, physical, and/or ABA therapy for your child. But parents and caregivers should be wary of facilities that offer these evaluations while lacking capacity to immediately treat the child.

FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco explains that unless her team is being called on for a second opinion of an initial evaluation, they refrain from conducting formal assessments if unable to promptly provide treatment once the evaluation is complete.

“A standardized assessment is only a snapshot in time during the child’s development,” Voltz-Ronco said. “It’s like taking a picture of a child now, and then expecting it not to change in a few months. … If your child cannot access therapy within 1 or 2 months of that evaluation, the results are no longer going to be accurate. Kids develop new skills every few months. But the longer the child goes without therapy, the more significant that standard score comparison/discrepancy to same-age peers is going to be.”

Jennifer Voltz-Ronco FOCUS Therapy Owner
Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder

Beyond this, families who rely on insurance to cover the cost of these evaluations (and they aren’t cheap) should be aware that insurers typically only cover one evaluation every six months or so. Even though clinics can utilize standardized assessments administered by another, it’s not ideal.

“Your child gets the most benefit when the team that directly observed your child’s abilities and deficits are the ones who ultimately formulate a plan of care and follow through with treatment,” Voltz-Ronco said. “In my opinion, it’s unethical for a clinic to profit from an evaluation that reveals a child is delayed or needs intervention – without providing that help.”

Types of Pediatric Evaluations FOCUS Therapy Offers

Children are usually referred to FOCUS Therapy and other therapy specialists by their primary care physician. Evaluations are typically ordered when a child is showing some developmental deficit, such as not sitting up or crawling, not talking or making regular eye contact, or red flags for a possible cognitive deficit. They could also be diagnosed with a condition that we can pretty well say for certain is going to require some combination of therapy services (such as cerebral palsy, down syndrome, vision impairments or hearing deficits).

Depending on the child’s condition and identified areas of concern, qualified therapists will be scheduled to conduct age-appropriate assessments to determine the need for therapy intervention services.

The specifics of the evaluation may vary, but they are generally going to include:

  • A look at case history, including medical status, education, socioeconomic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, and information from other providers.
  • Child and/or parent interview.
  • Review of the child’s auditory, visual, motor, and cognitive status.
  • Standardized and non-standardized assessments of specific aspects of speech, non-spoken language, swallowing function, cognitive communication, etc.
  • Assessment of self-care and/or self-awareness.
  • Skilled observation. This is where we keenly observe an accurately record a child’s abilities and behaviors.

There are several different types of standardized tests (including the ADOS test for autism screening, which FOCUS Therapy also provides).

“If a parent wants a second or third opinion after their child has been evaluated by a school or another provider, that’s one thing,” Voltz-Ronco. “But they’re most likely going to pay for that out-of-pocket – and they’re going to understand the purpose upfront. But if parents are looking for action, to get the ball rolling on the therapy interventions that a child needs, then the clinic conducting the assessment should be able to provide that.”

Not all of them do. Therefore, it’s incumbent on parents to ask the question before scheduling the assessment.

“We’ve gotten calls from parents of children who were evaluated other clinics, only to be told after the fact that the clinic did not have the ability to treat their child,” Voltz-Ronco said. “They were told to just call around and see what other clinics may be able to use the report generated from their assessment. That, to me, is not ethical.

“It’s a situation where parents need to be aware of this issue, and make sure they are asking the question upfront: ‘If I schedule this assessment and my child needs treatment, do you have the capacity to provide that treatment?’ If not, I would advise parents to move on and find a place with the capacity and willingness to do both.”

FOCUS offers ADOS testing and other standardized assessments in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida for children who may need speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or ABA therapy. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Assessment and Evaluation of Speech-Language Disorders in Schools, American Speech-Language Hearing Association

More Blog Entries:

ADOS Testing, FOCUSFlorida.com

developmental milestones Fort Myers FOCUS Therapy

FOCUS Therapy Take on New CDC Developmental Milestones Guidelines

Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) updated its developmental milestones guidelines used to identify potential red flags indicating a child may need early intervention services. This process was initiated long before the pandemic, and finalized in February.

After taking some time to consider the impact of these new standards, our FOCUS Therapy team has some concerns that we hope parents and local providers will pay attention to when weighing whether a child may require early intervention, such as speech, occupational, physical, feeding, and ABA therapies.

What Are CDC Developmental Milestones?

The milestones guidelines put forth by the CDC are essentially a point-by-point list of activities or skills that most children can do or have mastered by a certain age (primarily between birth and age 5). It includes skills that fall under one of the following categories:

  • Social/emotional
  • Language/communication
  • Cognitive
  • Movement/physical development

Examples of identified milestones would be things like waving “bye-bye” or saying words besides “mamma or dada” or taking a first step.

The old milestones can be found here.

The updated milestones can be found here.

Why Did the CDC Update the Milestones?

The CDC, along with the American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) said that the updates were conducted by a group of its experts, with changes required because the standards had not been revisited since 2004.

A spokeswoman for the CDC told Reuters that the agency had been discussing revising the milestones back in 2017, and that the work began in 2019. Analysis of parent understanding and relatability was conducted in mid-2020.

The goal, say agency leaders, was to make the guidelines more helpful to families. The language contained in the previous guidelines was reportedly vague, with parents on many fronts urged to take a “wait-and-see” approach. That approach is now broadly understood to no longer be the best course of action when children are delayed on key developmental milestones.

The updated version now includes checklists for 15 and 30 months, and milestones that are considered “standard” when 75 percent or more kids can be expected to those skills. That differs from the previous standards, which were based at 50 percent mastery.

Why Our FOCUS Therapists Have Concerns About the New Milestones

Certainly, eliminating a wait-and-see approach to any concern regarding kids’ developmental milestones is important. We now know that prompt intervention therapies (speech, occupational, physical, and ABA) are the critical when there are concerns about a child’s development. Early intervention is strongly correlated with optimal long-term prognoses for these kids.

The CDC says that by resetting the bar, they are able to pinpoint kids whose delays are clinically significant and who unquestionably should be funneled into the pipeline for early intervention services. This is as opposed to “worrying families whose children may developing normally at a slower rate than average.”

Our concern at FOCUS Therapy, however, is that in moving the milestone bench marker from “this is the age at which 50 percent of kids have this skill” to “this is the age at which 75 percent of kids have this skill,” the CDC has effectively lowered the standard for who may qualify for early intervention. In turn, that could mean kids who truly need these services may end up waiting even longer than they are now to obtain them.

“We want parents – at the earliest sign of an issue – to start raising the question, pushing for answers from doctors, and getting the ball rolling for evaluations and early intervention therapy services,” said FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “This is especially important in regions like South Florida, where it could take months just to get an evaluation, let alone an appointment to see a pediatric developmental specialist and get therapies lined up from there. We don’t want them waiting any longer than they have to because it is already going to take many months to secure these services. All the while, they’re going to be falling further and further behind their peers. The concern with these updated developmental guidelines is that is exactly what’s going to happen.”

There’s also a worry that health insurance companies may not approve treatment for kids if they’re slightly younger than what’s identified in the new guidelines – even if we as parents, therapists, and other health care providers can clearly see the benefit and need for services.

“Our recommendation, if you have any concerns about your child’s development, is to raise them to your child’s pediatrician and press them for a referral to specialists who can conduct assessments,” Voltz-Ronco said. “The earlier we can intervene for kids who have a delay, the better the long-term outcomes.”

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy, occupational therapy, feeding therapy, physical therapy, and ABA therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

CDC’s Developmental Milestones, CDC

More Blog Entries:

A New Diagnosis: Pediatric Feeding Disorder & How Fort Myers Feeding Therapy Can Help, June 27, 2022, Fort Myers FOCUS Therapy Blog