When schools initially shut down in the spring due to COVID-19, MSAD-75 quickly shifted to remote learning, including remote special education services. Providers were initially using a video-conferencing platform designed for businesses, but found that the low-quality platform was not meeting the needs of students. Some providers had heard of teletherapy previously, but they didn’t have any experience using it. Despite this lack of experience, the district knew this format would be urgently needed as remote and hybrid learning continued.
“I had heard about Presence throughout the years, but I wanted to make sure my clinicians were the ones choosing which platform they’d be using,” said Heidi O’Leary, director of special services for MSAD-75. “They tested various teletherapy platforms and ultimately concluded Presence was the best one for them.”
MSAD-75 partnered with Presence to provide teletherapy training for members of its speech-language and occupational therapy staff and continued speech-language and occupational therapy services via teletherapy using the Presence platform. “Initial buy-in from your staff is the most important thing. If your staff is asking for something to make their jobs easier, you should listen to them,” said O’Leary. “They’re professionals and if they need something, it’s our job to listen.”
MSAD-75 enrolled its district providers in Presence’s Teletherapy Essentials training program. Taught by Presence’s clinical experts, Teletherapy Essentials teaches school-based teams how to effectively deliver services on the company’s proprietary teletherapy and tele-assessment platform, designed by clinicians specifically for K-12 students with special needs.
One of the initial reasons the district partnered with Presence was to have access to a more robust platform beyond a video-conferencing platform. “Presence allows for each student’s therapy to be highly individualized based upon their needs and interests,” said Karen Totman, a speech-language therapist at MSAD-75. “It makes planning and creating materials to meet individual needs a thousand times easier than other platforms.”
While lesson planning, Totman can queue up materials in advance in the Presence platform. This feature provides a smoother transition between students and saves time during sessions. She is also able to individualize materials and tailor them to the needs and interests of each student. For example, she can quickly change flashcards to have images of trucks or change the board game to be the student’s favorite color.
With the Presence platform, Totman is also able to come up with new and creative ways to engage her students. “One of my students has a giant dollhouse that he loves and wants to talk about, so I made flashcards with items found in the dollhouse. When we go through the flashcards, he says each item and then runs to get it from the doll house and runs back to show me,” said Totman. “This treasure hunt activity provides a movement break for him while keeping him engaged and motivated to learn.”
Clinicians can easily search for and select activities and games based on students’ interests and goals. “The children love it,” said Totman. “One of my students is so excited to start he always greets me with his face pressed right up to the screen.” Also with students receiving services at home, a parent or guardian is usually sitting with them, and this has allowed clinicians to build stronger relationships with parents. A parent sitting in on sessions can help immensely with student progress because the parent sees what is being worked on during therapy and then can reinforce those things for the rest of the week.
“The Presence platform is great to have because it makes everyone’s professional jobs easier,” said O’Leary. “Some were struggling with lesson plans and being able to have resources at their fingertips so being able to pull it all together via the platform is huge.”