Capital Area IU 15: Online Therapy Delivers Services Across The Miles

 Schools throughout Pennsylvania face a chronic problem – a shortage of therapists to help students overcome challenges in speech, language, and other essential skills. Rural schools, especially, have difficulty attracting qualified clinicians to work in remote communities.

Capital Area Intermediate Unit 15 is helping schools bridge the gap. Through a new partnership with online therapy provider PresenceLearning, CAIU helps schools match highly skilled therapists with students who need services, regardless of geography.“There’s a certified, licensed provider on the far end of the connection, providing services directly to the student via the internet where the student is, whether it’s at school or at home,” says Special Projects Supervisor Mark Hennes. “All the student needs is an internet connection, a computer, a camera and a headset.”

CAIU chose PresenceLearning for its rich, innovative delivery. The service is “not just two people communicating by Skype, but an interactive therapy session, with visual interaction between therapist and student,” says Arlene Moll, Student Services’ Project Administrator at CAIU. Students are guided through activities customized to their needs. Even dragging a green apple to a tic-tac-toe square is an exercise in recognizing colors and following directions. Students who need occupational therapy to develop fine-motor skills through online activities and through simple tools such as clay or clothespins to develop hand-eye coordination, left-right differentiation, or handwriting skills.

Teachers, administrators, and even parents use the system to monitor activities and track student progress, which is measured by the goals in each student’s individualized education program (IEP).

Districts receive guidance as to which students will most likely benefit from the program, such as those who can stay focused during therapy sessions and follow instructions provided by the therapist. Teletherapy suits cyber students very well – those already accustomed to e-learning but who might need behavioral or other help. In a partnership with one cyber-charter school, CAIU’s initiative is providing social-skills instruction for students with autism. Teletherapy also works well for students with mobility issues or phobias. 
Teletherapy “really is a 21st-century way to deliver a critical service,” says Moll. “Wherever the student is, that’s where we can provide the service.”

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