By Rachel Revehl, FOCUS Therapy Parent
Earlier this year, prior to the pandemic, one of our son’s speech therapists from FOCUS approached me with what seemed at the time an absurd idea: Would we consider allowing him to do some of his speech therapy sessions via teletherapy? He’d be a great candidate, she said. She also thought it might help us with our busy schedule.
That last part was tempting, but…
“Um, thanks,” I replied. “But, I just don’t think that would work for him.”
Seriously, how could it? He would NEVER sit for a full session without a therapist physically in front of him, I thought.
Our Therapy Journey
Our son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD at 18-months-old, beginning our journey of intensive therapy schedules, specialist appointments, IEPs and support groups. It was an overwhelming time simply because of what we didn’t know: Whether he would ever speak, have meaningful relationships or achieve the same things as other kids.
I’m a bit sheepish to admit now, but when we first started therapy, I didn’t realize parents weren’t encouraged to sit in on every therapy session. At the time, though, no one said anything. So I sat in the corner of the room, quietly watching, observing like a fly on the wall, careful not to interject. And I learned SO much about the techniques and strategies the therapists were employing to help my son talk and tackle the functions of daily life. As I absorbed all this information, I began to grow more confident in his abilities. My own too. For all the difficulties and hurdles we faced, we were also discovering all the AMAZING ways his mind works. He could do this. WE could do this.
Later, I stopped going into his sessions, but still watched as day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year – slowly (and sometimes in fits and starts), he began catching up to his peers. Therapy really does work!
Faithfully after each session, FOCUS therapists would fill me in on all the details of what they worked on, challenges they faced and ways we could practice greater consistency and carryover at home and in school. Still, I did find that I sometimes missed seeing some of the progress in action.
Then came the pandemic. School closures. Day care closures. Therapy center closures. Suddenly, the only way he was going to continue to get therapy services for a time was through teletherapy.
“Well, here goes nothing,” I thought.
Luckily, FOCUS already had a teletherapy department up and running. In fact, it had been featured in Florida Weekly just weeks before the clinic was forced to temporarily close. I considered us fortunate that we had this stop-gap, an imperfect, temporary solution to an all-around bad situation. And for some parents, it turned out to be exactly that. But for us, it turned out to be a wonderful, eye-opening learning experience.
Why Occupational, Speech Teletherapy Works for Us
Initially, I was not convinced it would go well. But to my surprise, for the most part: He loved it. Not every time, of course. I certainly can’t pretend it’s been without its challenges. But truth be told: In-person therapy has its challenges too. Some days are good, and others… well, you know.
But teletherapy gave me an opportunity to gain deeper insight into WHY some days were better than others – and how we could be active participants in improving it.
I first began studying the practice of teletherapy in general. I found ample and growing research that for many kids, teletherapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy. It depends on the child, the diagnosis, how far along they are in their treatment, etc. It’s not for everyone. But for some kids, it’s every bit as good as seeing a therapist face-to-face. It does sometimes require a little more parent involvement during sessions, but if we’re being honest: It’s not like in-person therapy works well either if parents expect the therapists and kids to do all the work.
Worth noting: Teletherapy is very different than sticking him in front of a video game or a movie (something about which I was worried). The whole session is interactive. The point is to get him engaged and talking. There are clear expectations. The therapists set up visual schedules and rewards systems. He enjoys choosing his “stickers,” picking out fun backgrounds for the therapists or checking off his achievement boxes one-by-one. In sitting nearby, clacking away on my own computer, I realized I once again had the chance to passively observe, to soak in the techniques his therapists were using – why they were using them, what worked and what didn’t.
Sometimes, I’m simply within earshot while his therapist handles the whole session, start-to-finish. Even just hearing in the background the terminology they use, seeing the way he responds, observing the importance of his visual schedules and rewards – all of that naturally finds its way more into our day-to-day vocabulary and interactions with him, resulting in better carryover of the skills they’re trying to teach him.
Other times, I need to jump in to give some physical redirection or hand-over-hand assistance. But I’ve found that these moments have meant valuable, hands-on learning for me as much as my son. The therapist guides us through the challenges in real time, and those lessons are more prone to stick.
I also began to better understand the importance of something his occupational therapists had been gently pressing me on for months prior to our switch to teletherapy: A more consistent sensory diet. They had asked a few times (ok, more than a few) if I might consider stopping at the playground with him before in-person sessions to allow him to burn off some energy so he could better focus during therapy. Time-wise, it didn’t seem realistic. But as I watched during teletherapy – I witnessed the HUGE difference it made when he spent just 10 to 15 minutes prior to a session playing guided “heavy-work” games like bear crawl races or jumping jacks contests. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe what his therapists were telling me before. I just always felt so pressed for time, and I didn’t appreciate the significance of the cost-benefit. Actually seeing it – doing those exercises with him during a session, realizing how simple it could be and what a difference it made – compelled me to make it much more of a priority.
Now, it’s something we make a point to do not just before therapy, but any brain-intensive activity. What’s more, we actually have a bit more time to devote to this because teletherapy allowed us to eliminate the back-and-forth trips to the clinic every other day. As my husband and I are both small business owners, that aspect alone has granted us a lot of relief, especially during such a stressful economic time.
To be fair: I fully recognize our positive experience isn’t shared by everyone. For some kids and families, in-person therapy services are critical. Many were desperate for them to return, and for their sake, I’m grateful that they have. I do look forward someday to our son returning to the clinic, at least part-time (if nothing else for all the great hugs I know he’s missing out on!). But for now, as our family continues to social distance and we embark on at least another year of virtual learning, FOCUS teletherapy has proven a vital lifeline for our son and our family. I expect to continue at least some of his services via teletherapy, even after the threat of the pandemic has fully passed. I can confidently say: I’m no longer a teletherapy skeptic.
FOCUS Therapy is an excellent teletherapy source if you live in Florida and are interested in giving it a try.
FOCUS Therapy offers speech, ABA, physical and occupational therapy for children in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online for more information.
More Blog Entries:
FOCUS Now Offers Online Speech Therapy for Kids in Fort Myers, Feb. 18, 2020, FOCUS Teletherapy Blog
FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers is ALL about celebrating milestones big and small. We know just how hard these kids work – whether it’s speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy or physical therapy. We also know how hard their therapists and families work, too. When a child meets all the objectives of their plan of care – that is a huge success that deserves special recognition!
We’ve always held therapy graduations for kids, but we’ve been thinking more about their importance lately, not only because we’ve held several in the past few weeks, but also because we know so many kids in our community have missed important rites of passage like these in recent months. It was a real loss to them and their families. It drives home the point that whether you’re 8 or 18 or 80, a graduation is a very significant appreciation of one’s personal achievements and hard work. It’s also a gift to their family and others who have supported them along the way. When a child starts therapy, it’s often as much a journey for their family and therapy team as it is for them.
“Therapy is a commitment for the parents and the child,” explained FOCUS Therapy Owner and Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “They have to attend a certain amount of times per week, they need to show up, they need to give it their best. If it’s going to be effective, parents need to be on-board to ensure consistency and carryover. The kids work hard, the families work hard – and the therapists work so hard too! So when a child gets to the point that they’ve met all their goals and therapy is no longer necessary, I have always felt it is SO important to celebrate that victory.”
It’s a new school year, which means a new routine – and all of us at FOCUS Therapy recognize the transition this year is especially significant because it’s the longest so many of our kids have been away from school for any one stretch. For some, this school year and all the milestones that go with it are going to continue to look much different.
School officially starts for students in the Lee County School District on Aug. 31st, with one of four instruction model options. The Fort Myers News-Press reports most will do so at half capacity. Desks will be spaced-out. Certain hallways and stairwells will be designated one-way. Classroom changes will be staggered and lunches will be served in classrooms to prevent large gatherings of students at any one place on campus. Approximately 58 percent of students are learning virtually, with 39 percent signing up for Lee Home Connect and 19 percent for Lee Virtual School.
Our dedicated team of therapists and staffers is SO excited to hear all about your first days back to school. Because this new year is going to mean many changes and everyone will be quite busy, we wanted to send out some friendly reminders to help families as they navigate through these challenges.
Attention FOCUS Families: Effective immediately and until further notice, the FOCUS Therapy waiting room will be closed.
We are updating our pickup and drop-off procedures in response to parent concern and the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Florida.
Rather than entering the facility to check-in and pick up, we ask that parents and patients remain in their vehicles.
Upon arrival, parents should text the FOCUS Office cell phone – (239) 322-2810 – and provide the patient’s name, therapist’s name and make/model of the vehicle. Your therapist will then come out to the vehicle to retrieve your child. When your child’s therapy session is finished, your FOCUS therapist will escort your child to your vehicle in the parking lot.
Closing our waiting room for the time being is an action we take out of an abundance of caution in addition to numerous existing precautions and vigorous cleaning policies.
Parents of children disabilities can quickly find themselves immersed in a dizzying world of various doctors, therapies, medications and treatment. The thought of their child spending several days a week – for years – in speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapies is frankly overwhelming. So we do understand the temptation of quick-fix, non-medical services that promise to “get your child talking” or “catch your child up” with just a month or so of intensive programming.
Call them hype or scams – but they don’t work.
In fact, some do more harm than good. They waste precious time and valuable resources – which can be especially damaging when you’re encouraged to interrupt or leave the routine of traditional, physician-recommended therapies.
“Parents of children with special needs will go to the ends of the Earth to get their child the additional help they need,” said Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, owner and founder of FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers. What we don’t want to see is parents being taken advantage of. In fact, we care so much about these kids that we will even help parents investigate other treatment options and share information about and with other medical providers if that’s the direction parents want to go. But it pains us to see parents blindly signing up for ‘treatment’ from centers that make big promises, but objectively just don’t compare to what we’re offering in terms of quality and effectiveness.”
Out of an abundance of caution for our patients, families and staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, FOCUS Therapy of Fort Myers will be closing effective TOMORROW (March 17th) until further notice at the direction of Florida public health officials.
We are working to contact each of our families individually and inform them of possible teletherapy options.
Teletherapy is currently covered by the following insurance companies:
We are also offering teletherapy at a reduced rate of $85 for those whose insurance does not cover (it is normally $100).
though we may be able to offer a reduced rate for those whose insurance does not cover this service.
If you have any questions, you can still reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also reach out to your child’s individual therapists if you have their contact information.
More information about COVID-19 is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
We hope our FOCUS families continue to stay healthy and well, and that we’ll be seeing you again soon.
At FOCUS Therapy, we’re always looking for creative ways to teach our patients life skills by making speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapy fun and engaging. The new FOCUS Kids Store is yet another example of how FOCUS Therapy is looking outside the box to achieve this.
The brainchild of our Therapist Manager, Lisa Shogren, The FOCUS Kids Store offers an array of toys, games, puzzles, books, bracelets and more.
Patients can “pay” for items of their choice using FOCUS Bucks. FOCUS Bucks are earned by achieving certain therapy goals as well as completing a task from our list of chores. Each chore is tiered by price. Some examples of chores include:
- Refilling snack containers (once weekly – take note of any snacks we’re low on, inform our office staff if we are low so more can be ordered) – $5
- Paper shredding (twice monthly – gather any paper that needs to be shredded from all of the four offices at FOCUS Therapy, shred the paper and change the bag as needed) – $10
- Party Planner (once monthly – pick a theme and choose a day, make decorations and a list of food to be brought, design signs and display them to let everyone know) – $20
- Office closing sign creator (pick from one of the upcoming holidays FOCUS Therapy is closed, create a sign, laminate it, give to the front office staff so they can be hung the week before the holiday). – $1 per sign creation, $0.50 each to hang
FOCUS Families: Let’s talk coronavirus.
Also known as COVID-19, the coronavirus spreads between people who are in close contact (defined as within 6 ft). It can also spread by touching surfaces contaminated with droplets of the virus and then touching one’s face, mouth, nose or eyes.
FOCUS Therapy is taking several measures to address the concerns related to the coronavirus.
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.)
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.”