Responding to COVID-19

The events of this spring certainly have tested us. Almost overnight, we transformed our School Based Therapy Services and Center for Children’s Therapy into a completely remote operation. At the time, we had 40 therapists working in schools in New York City and New Jersey, and with the sudden school closures, we had only a handful of days to adapt the entire company to this new normal and take everything virtual.
We quickly familiarized ourselves with Google Classroom, Google Meet and some 10 other platforms, so that we could use them to deliver therapy virtually to all of our students. It was quite a task, but we managed to accomplish the conversion over a weekend. So now our students are all getting whatever sessions they need with our therapists live, face-to-face.
One of our occupational therapists developed a one-page newsletter with functional activities for children to do throughout the day so parents don’t feel inundated. Parents select which activities they want to do based on their child’s performance area. Another of our therapists prepares a menu each week to help parents and caregivers with meal-planning. The newsletter and other useful tools can be downloaded in pdf format from my May 5, 2020, blog about how to speak with children about COVID-19.

Please note that nothing contained in these resources is intended to be therapeutic advice; these are simply suggestions for informational purposes.

The Joys of Homeschooling

Meanwhile, I, too, am homeschooling my own children, like every other frazzled parent, therapist and teacher out there! I have a daughter who is a high school freshman and does six hours of instruction daily, Monday through Friday. A competitive dancer, she is now doing all of her lessons and auditions remotely. She was supposed to spend the summer at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, and she has been accepted into Barnard’s pre-college program – and is doing all of that remotely.
I also have a 3-year-old son in pre-K. Even though he has live instruction with teachers, I have to sit with him. Preschool has breaks throughout the day, a half-hour of circle time, story time one day, Spanish another, or gym, or computers.
So I’m managing my company while simultaneously managing homeschooling. It’s quite a juggling act! In our Zoom conferences and classroom meetings, all my occupational therapists get to see my 3-year-old on my lap – as do the clients I’m working with remotely.
Through it all, we have managed to establish a nice routine for everyone, and routine is the key to surviving and even thriving in this environment. We schedule homeschooling, homework, time outside every day and, of course, mealtimes. That is how we’ve adapted. But I have to say I feel tired just looking back at what we’ve had to do to get to this point.

And now I can’t wait to see everybody live, the old-fashioned way. As great as technology is, enabling us to do all that we do, it just doesn’t replace human interaction, face-to-face.

Looking Ahead

Now that we’ve nailed it with virtual teaching and therapy, we’re also prepping for summer school – even if our summer programs, too, must be delivered remotely. We’re also looking ahead to September, whether that will be face-to-face, or remote, or a combination of the two. Either way, we’re well-prepared for whatever comes because we’ve already been operating this way.
We will be ready with staff to handle the backlog of makeup sessions or compensatory sessions for those children who are too involved to benefit from remote sessions and have to make them up face-to-face when they return to school. We’re also prepared to manage all the evaluations that have been missed or put on hold through this pandemic.
Please be thinking ahead to services you might want to include in your fall programming. We make those staffing arrangements over the summer, as summer months are the best times to find top-quality professionals. So please get in touch with us so that we’re able address your needs come fall. Just give us a call.

How to Speak with Children about COVID-19

By Anna Lupinacci, MS, OTR/L

Although children generally are adapting to coronavirus-related changes in their day-to-day lives, this new way of living continues to be a challenge for many youngsters with special needs – and for their caregivers. Changes in routine can generate anxiety, especially when fear of illness is added to the equation.

To help children and their families cope, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a helpful web page at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/talking-with-children.html with guidance for speaking with children. CDC recommends that parents and caregivers:

Remain calm and reassuring, both in what you say and how you say it.

Make yourself available to listen and to talk. Make time to talk and be clear that they can come to you with questions any time.

Avoid blaming language. Viruses can come from anywhere and can make anyone sick.

Pay attention to what children see or hear about COVID-19 on TV, radio, or online. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.

Provide information that is honest and accurate. Be truthful. Give children age-appropriate information.

Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs. Wash hands often, for 20 seconds, with warm water and soap. Sneeze into a tissue or their elbow; throw the tissue in the trash. Avoid people who are coughing or sneezing. Use hand sanitizer (supervised).

To the CDC recommendations, I would add that we should:

  • Limit the number of conversations we have with our children to what’s developmentally appropriate for them.
  • Keep your messages positive, e.g., we’re wearing the mask to keep ourselves healthy. We’re washing our hands to make sure they stay clean to be healthy. Make the message positive and light.

From an occupational therapy perspective, now is a good time to go back to our meditation, breathing and sensory exercises to calm down and de-stress. Rather than trying to acquire new therapy skills, like handwriting or arithmetic, pause and work on stress management with mindfulness, yoga, aerobic exercises and other techniques outlined in my recent blog on anxiety.

Attached are some useful tools. One is a social story that explains to children in picture form the importance of washing their hands and wearing a mask out in the community, and perhaps when they go back to school; this might be particularly useful with children with autism.

Also attached are two occupational therapy schedules for children. Developed by Christina Fischer, OTR, these are examples of the activity schedules our therapists follow when we go into schools virtually. One is for pre-K and the other for elementary school-age youngsters.

Finally, I’ve attached a flyer of occupational therapy ideas by Lindy Litos, COTA.

As always, please note that ideas in the OT flyer are just a sample of one creative and functional treatment plan we have devised for our students during home instruction or remote learning. This is to be used in addition to live virtual sessions; it is not a replacement for medical or therapeutic advice. Parents should always consult with their doctor and therapist regarding their child’s care.

Attachments:
WearingAMaskStoryforChildren.pdf
Occupational Therapy by Lindy Litos.pdf
PreK OT Suggestions
Bee Well OT Suggestions