Who helps students to attend a telepractice session? Onsite facilitator…e-helper…student support specialist…para-pro…primary support person…teacher aide…on-site helper…ed helper… ed tech. Sometimes an SLPA, another SLP, or even a volunteer parent in the school setting often referred to as a brick and mortar setting. At home or in virtual services this person is the learning coach, parent, childcare provider, or sometimes the student themselves if they are older. No matter what you call that person, their role is vitally important to successful telepractice services.
Let’s focus on this professional in a school or brick and mortar setting. This position requires comfort and competence with technology, good organizational skills, and good rapport with a large variety of students and busy teachers. They are responsible for getting the students to the computer on time, logging into the platform or meeting room, and troubleshooting any problems particularly with the video or audio equipment used by the student for the session. They manage schedules, not just the students’ therapy time, but also unexpected and planned events at the school that will affect the students’ attendance and that of the therapist on the other end of the session. They manage the transportation of the students safely back and forth from the classroom to the teletherapy services location within their school. We, as therapists, refer to these people as our “hands and feet” at the school site. Teletherapy services depend on the competence of these vital professionals and their execution of this role for success at the school setting.
Once the student or students are logged in successfully, e-helpers take on the responsibilities of working in coordination with the therapist to make sure the student attends and completes activities as directed by the therapist. This requires a strong relationship and open communication with the therapist. It is the therapist’s responsibility to provide clear direction for the student support specialist so services and the activities can be completed effectively. By establishing expectations for cueing and behaviors, forms of physical support, and reward systems prior to sessions, the therapist will reduce the possibility for unequal expectations between the therapist and the facilitator. The student will see the pair of adults as a team in the therapy setting.
Above, I mentioned students in the plural, as I have worked with one amazing para-pro who managed three computers and consecutive sessions daily! A schedule would be created based on the students’ levels of required assistance. This would determine which student required one on one assistance during the scheduled sessions. Other more “independent” students would be set up on the other computers in the room so she could monitor them at the same time. If a problem arose with one of these students, she was present to fix the issue and then return to the more dependent student. This system worked well and saved the district funds and space requirements.
As a teletherapist for eight years, I am so grateful to these dedicated professionals and the hard work they do daily. Any successful partnership in a school setting depends on the relationship between the therapist and the primary support person. Showing appreciation and being thankful for their work goes a long way to establishing services that serve the students well. I try to say thank you and demonstrate appreciation for their efforts consistently. Even when things are not perfect, with effective communication and clear expectations, we can work out a system that rewards the students for their efforts. We are both service providers and want the students to be successful. Keeping this goal in mind reminds me that no matter the difficulties, we all want the students to succeed.