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5 Lessons Learned from Joann Sorg, A School Based Telehealth OT

As many of you following OT School House on Twitter and Facebook know, this past weekend Abby and I had the opportunity to attend the Occupational Therapy Association California (OTAC) Conference in Sacramento.

One session we both attended was titled “School-Based Telehealth: Bringing Services to Any Child, Anywhere” presented by Joann Sorg, M.S., OTR/L

Although neither Abby nor I practice via virtual means, we both came away from this session actionable lesson learned that us "traditional" SBOTs (Yes, I am making up a term to shorten School-Based OT) can greatly benefit from.

With the obvious difference between traditional and telehealth school-based OT being the location of service, Joann quickly emphasized the necessary organizational skills required. But, there were five key takeaways that stuck with me that I thought we could all benefit from.

So let’s jump into it!

5 Tips Learned

Don’t Waste Time! Neither Yours, nor Your Colleagues

As a telehealth provider, Joann is not able to simply pop into a classroom. She has to schedule a time with a teacher or paraprofessional who then has to log the student into her virtual classroom. If there is lack of communication, this process can take up valuable time. Unnecessary conversations with aides, teachers, or other staff can also cause a child to be waiting for her to login at another school site.

Like Joann’s time, your time, the teacher’s time, and also the student’s time is unfortunately limited. And we cannot afford to waste any of it with high workloads and several schools to be at.

In order to prevent wasted time, we must be organized and set boundaries. There should be dedicated times scheduled for treatment and dedicated times scheduled for collaborations, IEPs documentation, and other functions of your job.

Stay tuned for a post about how to complete a workload study to help justify needing another OT or COTA!

If you need to collaborate or consult with a teacher, schedule a time in advance with the teacher. With technology now, it's so simple to communicate and plan a consult. Likewise, make sure you schedule your services with the IEP team to ensure no overlapping services or wasted time while waiting for a student to come back from recess.

I used to have one parent who required a calendar of all service times for her child. As much as it frustrated the IEP team to have to do this, it was nice knowing that that student would be expecting me or the COTA every Wednesday at 9. It was our time and everyone knew what to expect.

We All Need to Change Our Mindset About Service Model Delivery

Do you default your service frequency to 2 or 4 times a month for 30 minutes per session in a pull out setting? If so, how are you justifying the same treatment frequency for each Individualized Educational Program (IEP)? Do they all really need the same amount of time, or is it just easier to schedule in 30 -minute blocks?

I am definitely guilty of this. Occasionally I will change my minutes to 15 if it is a consult or a young kid who has a limited attention span, but for the most part my kids are mostly scheduled for 30 minutes even though I know some require more than others. It’s time to get out of this rhythm and really evaluate how much time is necessary to meet the child’s goals.

Remember, goals drive services, and if you can help a student meet their goals in less than 30 minutes per week, then go for it!

Having the Right Materials

The first question that popped into my head while listening to Joann was “How do you know what materials the school site has to work with? Do you mail them materials?”

The simple answer: No, she doesn’t. She simply uses what is available at the school and in her office

She actually has the benefit of having her own office at home with all the materials she could possibly need (and then some, with all the tools on the computer).

But what I took away from this was that even though she was on a computer, Joann still had a room to work with the student and the on site aide had materials at her disposal should Joann ask to use them.

I don’t know about you, but I might give up my right leg to have a room with adequate materials at each school site...

Later that night at the conference, someone compared OTs to surgeons. They said, “You wouldn’t ask a surgeon to operate outside an operating room, so why should we be asked to treat in a closet?”

I feel like this is true and I’d love to hear how you all are advocating for our need to have an appropriate work space and materials. I have figured this out at some schools, but not all.

Drawing With Letters

Okay, this one is pretty straight forward. I just thought it was a really cool idea that I was surprised I hadn’t heard of before. And it really is simply drawing with letters! As you can see in the 2 links below, these resources help kids to learn their letters through pictures in a similar way teachers use animals and objects to teach sounds.

Check them out by clicking on the affiliate photo! Don’t worry, they will open in a new page so you can finish reading ;)

And finally (and possibly my favorite lesson learned)

Building Capacity in Teachers and Aides!

I feel as though us OTs often take our perspective and knowledge for granted. This often leads us to not communicate valuable tips to teachers, aides, and parents even.

For instance, we might see a student and think to ourselves “this kid needs a footstool so that he can support his trunk and improve upper extremity use instead of holding onto the desk for dear life.” But we just say he needs a footstool…

That there, was a missed opportunity!

We could have explained to the teacher why we are doing what we are doing and what they can look for in other students who may require similar supports.

By explaining to our colleagues the reason behind our seemingly odd suggestions, we help to build capacity in their ability to help many other children who we may never encounter.

Likewise, we can build capacity through inservices.

I’d like to challenge you to approach your principal and ask if you can give an inservice at an after school teacher meeting.

Maybe it’s a simple 15 minute lesson on ergonomics for both students and teachers. Or maybe it is more specific like an Autism Awareness training at a site that has several students with autism.

Either way, you are building capacity in the people who really do have the power to help make your job easier and help more students.

So, to finish this one up

I hope you feel encouraged right now!

Hopefully, some of you will even take me up on this challenge and let me know how it went. Or, if you already have done this, please share your experiences below. I look forward to hearing how you all are making a difference at your sites.

Until next time,



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