how to make tele-therapy work for your special needs family

When parents are told they’re switching to Teletherapy, most are reluctant, I mean, isn’t therapy all about in-person therapy? How will the therapist “work” with my child if they aren’t physical near them? And what will I do without the hour by myself sitting in a waiting room, it’s almost as good as a babysitter, maybe even better. 

Teletherapy isn’t new for many of us, so we’ve had to get used to the fear, anxiety, and trepidation of not taking our children into therapy sessions. But what I’ve found is, in some ways Teletherapy can be better than in-person therapy. It’s benefitted us in so many ways, not to say that taking my son into sessions isn’t great, but we’ve had to adapt to a new normal, which, being special needs parents, we’re kind of used to it, as there’s a new normal almost daily. 

First, I thought it would be best to hear from the gurus, so I interviewed two AMAZING pediatric therapists who we happen to work with, and they were ecstatic to share their perspectives with us.

Michelle is a Speech Pathologist, and Andrea is an Occupational Therapist, and they both work at Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinics. Both have been exceptionally helpful to our family and changed our lives in countless ways, so I was excited to hear what they had to say.


What can parents do to help you and their families succeed with Teletherapy? 

Michelle said, “I work with some complex patients who can’t sit and attend all the time, so I appreciate it when parents come prepared with the challenges they need help with. We want to make their time worth while.”

Andrea agreed, saying, “I will often start the session off by asking the family what’s new or how life has been since I saw them last. This gets the conversation going. It’s helpful if parents have topics in mind to touch on.” 

Andrea added, “I work with a lot of patients on their fine motor skills and stability, so it’s helpful when parents have the area set up in a space that works for them and the child, and have the materials they need.”

“We want to set the child up for success.”

Andrea Goodwin OT

Michelle said that it’s important to be flexible. “All the kids we work with have different needs, so this means the sessions will look different, and it may take time to figure out what works for a particular child.” 

Both Michelle and Andrea completely agreed that they want to know if something isn’t working for a family. They desire to hear from you!

With our therapists I’ve always felt like I was an equal part of the equation, we’re all working together to not only help Jeremiah, but to help our family as a whole.

What benefits do you see with doing therapy via video conferencing? 

“Telehealth (or Teletherapy) makes services accessible,” Andrea said. “Certain clients can’t come in due to health issues or behavior issues that keep them from riding in a vehicle to therapy, so Telehealth makes it much easier for some families.”

“Our goal is to train families to do what we do. When families come in for therapy and the child exhibits a behavior, out of habit we may jump in to work with, or help the child. Now with doing therapy via Telehealth, we can better allow parents to step into that role.” 

Michelle Raymond M.A., CCC-SLP

Andrea added that she can see families in their comfortable setting. “For example, if a family needs help with making a child comfortable or safe in their room, we can see the room and make suggestions as to what they can move, add, or take out of the room.” 


Before I jump in I’d like to share a little about our family. My husband, Justin, and I have two children. Jeremiah is eleven and has nonverbal autism, and his older sister, Payton, is a-typical. Jeremiah is learning to use a communication device, which is an electronic device that a person who is unable to communicate clearly may use. If you would like to know more about the communication device we use, please contact me (see link at the end of this post). If I get enough inquiries I may do a post about it.

Here are some ideas on how to make Teletherapy work for you:

  1. Tell therapists what you’re struggling with.
    It’s preferable that you do this out of earshot of your children as much as possible. Consider emailing your concerns before meeting if needed.

    Be honest about your struggles. Your therapists are there to help you and your child, and if there’s something that’s nagging you, or situations that keep reoccurring, be open with them, they might have a solution. For example: “I feel I’m getting impatient with Kenan when he…” or “Darian hasn’t been sitting at the table when he’s eating, and I don’t know what to do.”

    Share your successes too, even if it’s not directly related to the therapy your therapists are focused on. Therapists are almost always happy to hear what’s going well, they can even build on this with more ideas and ways to build on your child’s skills.

    When sessions end and I click the “leave meeting” button, I usually feel more positive than we started. I feel that’s because we all are honest with one another and we are open to a broader sense of “therapy”
  2. Any video you can provide is always helpful.
    If your therapist can see what your child is doing, they can asses situations better.
    I’ve received some of the best feedback when I’ve shown our therapists videos of me working with Jeremiah. They had great pointers on several factors that help both Jeremiah and I. 
  3. When I’m in my own environment, I can remember situations better
    I’ve done so much better remembering specifics during Teletherapy sessions than I ever did in the therapy room.
    I think this is due to a couple factors:
    1. I’m more relaxed at home – while in Teletherapy sessions, I’m sipping hot cocoa and eating bon bons. I’m not worried about whether my sweet son will eat another mother’s bon bon in the waiting room, or take a drink of her soda, or sit on someone’s lap because they’re sitting in his “regular” spot.
    Nor am I fretting about him having to go to the bathroom during a session or how the transition to the car and home will be afterward.

    2. I’m able to visualize situations that have occurred at home.
    As I’m in tele-therapy, I might see the back door and recall Jeremiah went outside a few times the previous day – our occupational therapist would be happy to hear that. And, I may remember that Jeremiah threw our outdoor pillows over the fence into the neighbors yard, hence discussions with our therapists on how to curb this behavior.
    Maybe I notice our current read-aloud sitting on the table and tell our therapists how much he enjoys it. Then our Speech Pathologist gets to do a little dance, and mark off that Jeremiah’s joint attention is gaining, and she can recommend additions to the book reading, and maybe how we can help him use his communication device to read the book with us as a family. 
  4. It’s easier to get other children involved.  
    IF your a-typical kids are helpful with your special needs child and your therapist is okay with it, you can involve them in therapy sessions.
    Peer modeling has been an excellent motivation for Jeremiah.
    Jeremiah has done things he’s never done before after seeing his sister, Payton, doing it. He’s more likely to use his communication device when Payton models for him. He’s been more likely to try new foods he’d never eaten after seeing Payton or one of his friends eating it.

    In fact, just yesterday, I was reading aloud to the kids, and I’d asked Jeremiah a few times to look at the pages I was reading, he wouldn’t do it. However, when Payton said his name he swiveled his head immediately. 😉 I wouldn’t force your a-typical children to participate in therapy unless you need their help. However, they might be interested in activities or games they can play with their sibling. 

We really miss seeing our therapists in person, and I know they’d be amazed at how Jeremiah has changed and the skills he’s gained. But on the flip side I can’t deny that we’ve also been thriving in different ways with Teletherapy, and I really hope these tips will help you, your family, and your therapists find a way in this ever-changing world.