Medical providers are increasingly relying on telehealth services to ensure patients' needs are met - by meeting patients where they are. It's been used by nurses, psychologists and therapists too. FOCUS Fort Myers is now among the first providers in Southwest Florida to offer online speech therapy for kids.
Sometimes called virtual therapy or teletherapy, it's any therapy that can be conducted via technological device (iPad, phone, computer, laptop, etc.). FOCUS began offering online speech therapy services sporadically about 18 months ago. Recently, we established our Teletherapy Department, consisting of two pediatric speech therapists who exclusively operate remotely.
"The same diagnoses and conditions that can be treated in our clinic can be treated effectively via teletherapy," said Haley Ott, FOCUS speech-language pathology assistant and co-head of the Teletherapy Department.
The process is similar to a Face Time call, except it's through a secure, HIPPA-compliant app.
"It's fairly simple from there," FOCUS SLP and TD department co-head Emmi MacIntyre Ring explained. "We provide our clients with a meeting code, the client enters it into their device, and we pop up on their screen and utilize a variety of online platforms to target their therapy goals. It's an evidence-based and supported administration of therapy services that we've found to be extremely convenient and effective for our clients at FOCUS."
Some local schools contract with companies that strictly offer teletherapy services. However, only a small number of private therapy clinics offer it - for now.
In many regions - including Southwest Florida - the need for speech therapists is greater than the supply. The new Advanced Report on Telehealth and Telemedicine Market Analysis Forecast indicates that by 2026, the global market for all telemedicine is expected to exceed $185 million.
The cost for speech teletherapy is the same as an in-clinic visit, and it's covered in FOCUS' contract with Medicaid. We also extend this service to private pay clients, and are working to expand availability for patients in other insurance networks.
Therapists don't need any special training for telehealth services except for use of the app. If there are parent concerns about how attentive a child will be in online speech therapy, we encourage quiet observation of a session or two in the background. After the first few, though, kids usually make more progress when given space to connect one-on-one with their therapist - even from a distance.
Effectiveness of Teletherapy for Speech
Because telehealth is relatively new in the medical field, researchers are still gathering data and anecdotal evidence that will provide definitive proof of its effectiveness. Still, early impressions are that online speech therapy could be a game-changer for many kids who might otherwise be limited in the early intervention services they could receive.
One study found that kids receiving speech teletherapy outperformed control groups and national benchmarks in expressive and receptive language, social pragmatics and articulation skills.
Research published in the spring 2017 edition of the International Journal of Telerehabilitation concluded: "The evidence presented showed that telehealth is a promising service delivery method for delivering speech and language intervention services to school-age children. This alternative service delivery model has the potential to improve access to SLP services for children living in geographically remote areas, reducing travel time and alleviating the detrimental effects of communication difficulties on education, social participation and employment."
In other words: We KNOW that early speech and language communication skills are a strong indicator of a child's future success. The sooner we can treat speech and language deficits, the better off that child will be long-term. Online speech therapy is a way to extend the same services to kids who might have a difficult time to make it to the office everyday.
"The therapy we're offering isn't different - the mode of delivery is," explained Ott. "Many therapists believe that teletherapy is especially beneficial and a superior method for children in schools because it allows for a FULL session, without having to take time out of a session to transport students. More minutes means more progress."
It's also important to note that while screen time for young kids is generally frowned upon, teletherapy is different. While most television and online games deprive kids of key social interaction, the whole point of speech teletherapy is engaging them.
"Teletherapy is led and directed by a licensed, certified clinician, working specifically on therapy goals in a way that is tactical and motivating for each child and their needs," MacIntyre said.
Parent Feedback on FOCUS Online Speech Therapy Program
Parents come to FOCUS Fort Myers from all over Southwest Florida because we are one of the most trusted providers of speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapy in the region. But teletherapy is still fairly new, so it's understandable parents and even some providers would approach it with healthy skepticism. Ott said the primary concern initially is, "What if my child doesn't pay attention?"
"This is 100 percent understandable, and is a concern of ours as well," Ott said. "However, you can apply this question to your child in most situations - including at school and during in-clinic therapy sessions. In school, your child isn't paying attention ALL the time, and in-person therapy at FOCUS isn't always smooth-sailing either. Most children need frequent breaks in order to attend, and online speech therapy is no different."
Elliot Warford, 8, of Fort Myers, has been a speech teletherapy patient for several months now.
"We love teletherapy so much," his mother Crystal Warford said. "It's a more controlled, one-to-one session, as opposed to in the clinic, where there are sometimes distractions. He loves that Haley incorporates games, and he feels more in control when he gets to choose which games to play. And of course for us, it's convenient to be able to cook dinner while he's in therapy."
Teletherapy may not be an option for every child, but we also know for some kids, it can be every bit as effective as in-person sessions. Sometimes children are more engaged in teletherapy sessions than in-person sessions because they get access to functional screen time.
This service makes a big difference for working parents and families constantly ferrying back-and-forth to other appointments and commitments. It increases access to providers, allows for greater transparency (every session can be recorded) and children enjoy it.
"It's a great way to incorporate education with something they like and aid in increasing their development," Ott said.
Andrea Cappuccilli's daughter has been attending speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy at FOCUS for the past several years. Recently, the 7-year-old started doing some of her FOCUS speech therapy sessions online from home.
"Our primary purpose for speech therapy is to work on voice and breathing exercises so that her respiratory system can get stronger," Cappuccilli explained. "Teletherapy at home gives her a solid chance of improving these skills, while allowing her to avoid exposure to illnesses like the flu or RSV that can easily put her in the hospital for weeks."
And her daughter loves it.
"She knows she's doing therapy, but being on a screen - which kids are already all about - makes it seem cool, and like it's on HER terms."
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy and online speech therapy for kids in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
A Pilot Telerehabilitation Program: Delivering Early Intervention Services to Rural Families, Fall 2009, Jana Cason, International Journal of Telerehabilitation
Teenagers and children prone to depression, apathy or behavior problems may benefit significantly from an “electronics fast,” according to a new article published in Psychology Today. At our FOCUS Fort Myers ABA therapy clinic, we have noted that exposure to electronics in children of all ages is an environmental factor many parents overlook when analyzing how to curb certain behavior issues.
For example, if your child is having a difficult time at dinner sitting still, focusing or avoiding meltdowns, handing them a smartphone to occupy them for a few minutes is not an uncommon strategy. It’s often effective too – at least in the short-term. The problem is the adverse impact it has in the long-term.
Firstly, in this situation, the parent is unintentionally reinforcing the undesirable behavior by rewarding the child with a screen – something they probably desperately want. But even if it buys you a few minutes of quiet time (and we don’t doubt that so many parents need that), what it won’t do is help your child get any better at sitting through a meal.
Further, it’s likely to be exacerbating behaviors subsequent to meal time, and the effects can be cumulative.
Happy New Year from all of us at FOCUS Therapy!
To ensure this year goes as smoothly as possible, we’re publishing the 2020 FOCUS Therapy Scheduled Office Closures list in advance.
Typically, our Fort Myers therapy clinic’s schedule mirrors that of the Lee County School District. In other words: If the schools are open, we’re open. If schools are closed, we’re closed. Keep this in mind anytime there are severe weather closures, etc. (particularly during hurricane season!). Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the summer schedule, but where there are deviations, your child’s therapists should alert you in advance. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions!
Scheduled 2020 FOCUS Therapy Office Closures
- 4/10/20 – Good Friday
- 5/25/20 – Memorial Day
- 9/7/20 – Labor Day
- 11/26-11/27 – Thanksgiving and the Friday after
- 12/21/20-12/25/20 – Christmas Week
- 1/1/21 – New Year’s Day
(Note: We will be open during spring break, March 16-20th and Friday, July 3, 2020.)
Recently in Fort Myers, Heights Elementary School unveiled a new “sensory room” to provide “brain breaks” for exceptional student education (ESE) pupils. Smaller-scale versions of this are open at two other Lee County schools, according to FOX4. Our FOCUS occupational therapists hope this is just the beginning of a new trend at Lee County Schools – and elementary schools throughout Florida and across the country.
Schools are noisy, busy places overflowing with all kinds of stimuli: Florescent lights, echoing sounds, lots of people in close quarters, lingering cafeteria smells, brightly-colored walls and more. All of this can be quickly overwhelming to children with conditions like autism spectrum disorder or ADHD.
The human brain is designed to produce and regulate responses to our sensory experiences – those we see, touch, taste, hear and smell. “Sensory integration” is how we refer to this link between our brain activity and behavior. For children with certain developmental disorders, the way the brain processes these senses can cause significant discomfort or distress; the brain either overreacts or doesn’t respond adequately. When a child has difficulty regulating their sensory stimuli, it’s called “sensory processing disorder,” which can lead to all sorts of negative behaviors that can be a discomfort to the child and a disruption in the classroom.
Sensory rooms in schools can be a practical solution, providing calming, safe spaces for children with an array of sensory needs. As our FOCUS occupational therapists can explain, a child whose sensory diet is adequately fed will be MUCH better equipped to relax, focus and get down to the actual business of learning.
Saturday, Dec. 7th: FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Offering 3 Hrs of Free Childcare to Patients & Siblings!
Need a few kid-free hours to knock out your holiday shopping? Or maybe you could really just use a much-needed mom-date or some “me-time.” FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers has your back!
Our licensed, certified and experienced therapists are giving our clients the gift of three full hours of child-free time during two convenient time slots (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. OR 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.
“We know how tough it is for so many parents of children with special needs to carve out the time just to get through the business of everyday – and then try to tackle something like holiday shopping on top of that,” said FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Owner Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “Taking your kids with you may not be an option (you wouldn’t want to anyway if you’re buying presents for them). But the other challenge is finding someone you can trust with your child.”
Thanksgiving Day is coming up fast, and many of us are feeling a keen sense of gratitude for all the unique people in our lives. That includes those of us fortunate enough to know and love one of the 2.5 percent of children ages 3 to 17 diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. With increasing autism awareness and a growing desire for greater inclusion, our FOCUS ABA therapy team has several tips for hosts to make the next holiday gathering more autism-friendly.
Any good host wants to ensure all guests are safe and comfortable, but may not be certain how to do that when it comes to a child with autism. Go easy on yourself there. The truth is that discovering the complexities of autism in general – let alone the broad variation from one person to the next – can be challenging for parents and therapists too. Puzzlement is totally understandable for someone who doesn’t live with a person on the spectrum or know their routines, triggers, interests or abilities.
If you’re looking for practical ways to be proactive in welcoming a child with autism who will be visiting you this holiday season, consider these few tips from our FOCUS ABA therapy team.
While slime itself – slippery, gooey, smooshy, somewhere between liquid and solid – has a lot to offer in terms of sensory integration, the simple process of making it in a therapy session can give children a lot of practice in key skills we’re working to develop.
(And the lessons “stick” because, well – slime is cool!)
We encourage parents to try this – and other simple experiments – at home to get their kids talking!
This year, FOCUS began offering Fort Myers ADOS testing to help families obtain an autism diagnosis as soon as possible, helping to facilitate early intervention treatment for children as young as 18 months.
Autism spectrum disorder is an increasingly common lifelong condition characterized by social and communication deficits that can mildly or significantly impede one’s ability to function in daily life. There is no “cure” for autism, and neither do we know exactly what causes it. Plus, there is no blood or genetic testing we can run to give us a for-sure answer. All this makes timely, accurate diagnosis of autism difficult.
What we can say is this: An early autism diagnosis, followed by a combination of intensive speech, behavioral (ABA) and occupational therapy has proven the most effective when it comes to the best long-term prognoses. In other words:
The sooner autism is identified and diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated – and the better chance your child has at a happy, healthy, independent life.
Most children with autism display clear signs prior to age 2. This is the best time to intervene.
“No-Brush” Tooth-Brushing, Sensory Toys & Other Quick Fixes: Consult a Fort Myers Occupational Therapist First
Recently, a FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapist was asked about a Facebook advertisement for a “no-brush toothbrush.”
“You know how much (my child) struggles with brushing their teeth. Would this help?”
Another recent inquiry involved an ad for a sensory toy that claimed to be, “perfect for children with sensory processing disorder.”
It’s not that there is anything innately wrong with these products. It’s true that for some kids, they might be really beneficial.
The key word is, “Some.” There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and these parents did the right thing by asking their child’s OT first.
You my notice in the FOCUS waiting room that our Fort Myers speech therapists sometimes form some basic signs with our hands while we’re speaking to some of our patients. But it’s not exactly sign language. What we’re doing in those instances is using a speech-language therapy technique known as “sign-supported speech,” sometimes referred to as SSS.
Sign-supported speech is a form of simultaneous communication (SimCom), which was originally formed for the benefit of those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. However, the method has also proven an effective way for our Fort Myers speech therapists to teach speech and language to children with language delays and disorders.
Recent research published in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research found that when speech therapists used sign-supported speech for word learning when working with children who have a developmental language disorder, it had a positive impact on the child’s linguistic and cognitive development.