Presence Spotlight for Clinicians: Cassondra Righter, M.A., CCC-SLP
An interview with Cassondra Righter, a speech-language pathologist in the Presence Clinical Community
I grew up in a small town outside of Dayton, Ohio. I attended Wright State University for the first year. Then I went to Ohio State, and graduated with my BA in nutrition. My plan was to go into the medical field, but I also had a minor in business. I worked at the Walt Disney World Company for a short time, and then, after doing that, I returned to school, attending Ohio University where I got my master’s of arts in communication sciences.
I’m married and a mom of two kids under two. Besides being a mom, we have a miniature dachshund. I take him for walks in between coffee breaks.
I love to read when I have free time. I follow Reese’s Book Club on Instagram because she always recommends good books. So I try to read what they’re reading. I’m currently reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
While at college, I worked as a nanny for a lady who worked for Presence. She was raising her kids, but working from home, and I was their caregiver. I thought that was so awesome. And this was before teletherapy was even on the map—in 2012—way before the pandemic. She told me that speech doesn’t have to just be in schools—you can work with people with dysphagia.
I was already on the nutrition path. I went ahead and applied to Ohio University in Athens. I was accepted and moved there, got my master’s, graduated, and moved back. I married a teacher who said “please come work in the school so we can have summers off.” I started working for a school district in Columbus. I had a lot of students in my caseload. After a while, I decided to go back to the medical setting and did that for a while.
When I went to grad school there weren’t any classes on teletherapy. But the school district that I was helping at the time went online so I was already seeing kids online and was scrambling to make materials. It was not organized. We were using a standard business video conferencing platform. Giving evaluations was really challenging and it was very chaotic.
When the pandemic happened, I decided it was time to try teletherapy—at that point I had a baby, and wasn’t really comfortable being around people with a little one and I was immune-compromised myself. I just wanted to be at home with my babies. But I didn’t want to lose my skills.
I wanted to venture into teletherapy but was afraid of change. I had no choice when my school district required that I deliver speech services via video conferencing. It was challenging! However, I ended up enjoying working from home and researched teletherapy companies. I found Presence and it has been life changing!
At that time my Presence CAM—our clinical account manager—was just so nice and so wonderful and so helpful. She was really encouraging that I could do this. Honestly, my interaction with her was so positive that I thought Presence is a really interesting company—I’d never worked anywhere where people actually took the time to get to know me as a person.
Then I had another baby during the pandemic. This is just the perfect merger of being a mom, but also being on top of my game. And Presence offers so much support with office hours, and they give continuing education credits or CEUs, which we need anyway.
I applied and started working with Presence. I was thinking it wasn’t going to be a full-time thing. I just wanted to try my hand at it, because I’m always open to new experiences which is what I love about speech. There are so many things to do. The system is so seamless that it just makes my life easier. So the transition was very, very easy.
Initially when my district went online I had to scramble for materials. Presence has so many resources in the library. Administration of tests is also easy! Presence also has office hours and the clinical account managers are so supportive!
There are so many groups that we’re a part of…everyone’s always really helpful about sharing resources in the Lounge. What’s crazy is that I feel so connected. Even if I’m sharing a school with a provider, we can coordinate things together. Maybe we’ll do a theme together. So even though we live in completely different states, but are working for the same school, I still feel like I can reach out to that person, and they are happy to share resources. I think because I work for a company that cares about its providers, that just makes you want to do more and connect with people so that’s great.
I love the freedom and flexibility of my job! I was burnt out and struggling to find joy in my work. I now set my own schedule and get to be home. I’ve cut out travel, unnecessary meetings, and running around a district with all my materials!
Presence is so organized! The library, office hours, and billing system are so easy to use. And I don’t feel alone even though I don’t physically report to a building.
I get up and make coffee! I spend quality time with my two girls. We might take a walk. I work in California so my babysitter comes over at 11 am and I walk to my guest room and log on for speech. I have a break to walk down to feed my baby (can you believe that I don’t have to use a breast pump?!?!) and have lunch. I walk back up to my guest room and finish my day. Somedays I have two breaks and I take my miniature dachshund on a walk! I have dinner with my family and put my children to bed. If I need to complete some paperwork, I do that while my girls sleep.
You are ineffective if you are not caring for yourself! I’m able to be a fully present mother and a fully engaged therapist! My quality of life has greatly improved!
In the past when my brick-and-mortar school district went online, we used a video call platform and my computer would shut down so many times because I had so many tabs open. It was really hard to make my services for each student individualized when having to open up all these tabs.
With the Presence platform what’s great is you can organize all your materials and queues for your groups or for your individual student, and just pop them open in there. And there are different ways to organize—you can organize by student, you can organize by groups, or you can organize by themes. I’ve learned all this from going to the office hours.
Then also, evaluating students during the pandemic was super challenging over the video call platform—I did not have access to the materials to really, truly do evaluations. With Presence, all the evaluations are built into the platform, so I can see the screen that the student is seeing and they can see mine and it’s just a better overall experience. I now have an accurate picture of that student’s communication skills.
I’m the type of person that when I do a job I want to do it to the best of my ability, and I was not set up for success in other places of business like I have been with this company.
I call them! Or we can chat face-to-face via the platform! I also have my school team print off a “meet the SLP” handout with my bio and contact information.
I thought that going from an in-person setting to fully online was going to be very challenging. But to be honest, I actually have more time to connect with parents and build that rapport and trust than I did when I worked in a traditional school setting, because there really wasn’t time in my schedule to do that between having a large caseload to service and managing traveling between different buildings. I definitely wanted to connect. But there just really wasn’t the capacity in the day to do that while now I’m more in control of my schedule. If there’s a parent I want to reach out to, or I want to provide somebody with homework that they can do outside of speech therapy, I have the freedom to do that now, where in the past that really wasn’t possible.
I love the primary support person. They are so essential to my practice. I have actually made really strong connections with all the people that I’ve worked with. Side note, I have family that lives in California, and I’m traveling to the area where I worked last school year—I am going out to breakfast with my primary support person, because we became really good friends while working together.
I think the big part is, if I have a kid with special needs, they really need a lot of support to interact with the platform to access the materials and sometimes even respond to me. So having that person there to help and assist that student is vital. Otherwise we would get nothing done. They’re also great for modeling. If I have a student with an assistive communication device—an AC device—I actually set time sometimes to train them. For example, I’ll say, “This is what we’re going to do in this session. Can you hit this button for me?”
I will say that I went into this as a complete skeptic. Initially I didn’t understand how therapy could be effective online, let alone how to evaluate students online. But I had never experienced Presence, and how they do things. There are a ton of teletherapy companies out there and I did work for one briefly in the past, and it was not like Presence. This company is set apart, because everything is so seamless—I don’t have to submit or keep track of an invoice and turn it in to someone, and then they approve it. The billing is all together, the evaluations are there, and it is an accurate representation of all the students’ communication skills. Even though we’re online, it is just like I am there in the physical building.
And for evaluations, that’s when that support person also comes in. I typically have a conversation with them, and walk them through the evaluation. There are a few districts that actually have the same physical copies of the test kits I use for Presence. I can have that person go and grab those, so if I have a student who might need to see something physical like a picture, and maybe a camera isn’t appropriate, they’re able to flip the pages for me. It’s very different.
I have personally seen students make gains with teletherapy, especially using the Presence platform. I would also just say teletherapy has been in our field for over 20 years. So it’s not a new technology. People think it came on the scene because of COVID-19. But no, it really works.
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