Parents throughout the District –and the country—are struggling with the new challenges of staying at home with their families. Many are balancing their usual occupation with a new job formally teaching their kids, and some are struggling to do it. Some of these kids face challenges with motor skills, feeding, speech-language skills, attention and focus, and with anxiety or self-regulation, and their parents are in need of home-based strategies to help them deal with the struggles of learning at home.
Local pediatric therapy practice Skills on the Hill (1301 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) is reaching out online to offer support to parents as they are consumed with engaging their children who are having their own challenges.
“It’s hard,” said Executive Director and Occupational Therapist Kristen Masci. “For many parents, this is a totally different job than what they do, and sometimes their child really needs that extra support they previously got at school.”
The therapy clinic is offering free online developmental consultations, advice on how to handle day-to-day challenges through their online blog, and ideas for stimulating play and movement through their ‘6 Ways to Play’ social media campaign.
Masci founded Skills on the Hill (SOTH) in 2002 to offer pediatric-based occupational therapy to Capitol Hill families, later expanding to provide feeding and physical therapy, among other services. They work with 19 DC charter schools and provide services through the District’s Strong Start DC Early Intervention Program within the community, and they want to help parents through this challenging time.
Ways to Play
All families can benefit from the information offered online by clinicians. The SOTH blog offers advice on topics such as how to talk to children about COVID-19 and ways to get sensory input –even indoors—during a quarantine, or how to implement structure and teaching moments throughout the day. There are also topics not about the coronavirus, such as how to establish healthy habits and routines for all kids.
You can also get ideas from the SOTH ‘6 Ways to Play’ social media campaign. Every day, the team posts a photo of something seemingly mundane you have around the house –items such as pillows, socks, a bedsheet, or a cardboard tube—and lists six different ways you can play with them that stimulate learning and movement. Followers comment with more ideas, making the @skillsonthehill Instagram and Facebook pages into a picture list of potential things to do with kids at home.
‘That’s When You See Things’
However, parents of children with learning or behavior challenges may need more support, and Skills on the Hill is now offering it in the form of online TeleTherapy treatment sessions.
Masci said that in taking on the additional role of daily education, parents might be noticing new aspects to their child’s behavior, such as signs of anxiety, challenges with motor or self-help skills, trouble with self-regulation or attention issues. Other parents may have seen behaviors that opened up questions about their child’s skills prior to the COVID-19 crisis, she said, but did not have the opportunity to ask questions of professionals.
“Sometimes, you look at a child and it seems like everything is okay to the untrained eye,” Masci said. “But when a child is expected to focus, entertain him or herself for prolonged periods of time, or do more educationally related tasks at home –that’s when a parent might observe difficulties.”
These parents can schedule a free ‘virtual’ developmental consultation. Usually offered as an in-office visit, the team has adapted the 30-minute session into a virtual consultation during which clinicians can informally assess a child and make recommendations for how to proceed, and information to relay to a pediatrician.
Other families that were receiving therapy services from schools could benefit from Skills on the Hill services now that schools are closed, she continues. Some children are missing out on getting that significant support while at home with schools being closed, and it may be starting to show. Self-quarantine and social distancing can mean a lot of unstructured time, Masci said, and that can be tricky to navigate for kids with learning disabilities, developmental delays, and other medical conditions.
“If little Johnny was getting direct therapy at school and is now at home, things might seem like they’re falling apart,” she said. ‘We can help families in need of some support and strategies to approach home-based learning.”
Of course, like many practitioners all over the US, SOTH has developed online TeleTherapy services to ensure they can continue to provide consistent care for their clients.
Online services include TeleTherapy for occupational, speech-language, physical and feeding therapy. But they also include helping to develop a Quarantine Survival Schedule. In Virtual Parent Coaching Consultations, a clinician observes a child virtually and provides feedback to parents, as well as materials for future use. They also offer Virtual Parent Education on specific topics, a fresh set of eyes to look at IEP Services and compensatory therapy services for kids missing school services.
Initially, Masci said insurance companies didn’t really know how to proceed with TeleTherapy services, but as it became clear that COVID-19 was going to have a long-term impact, insurers increasingly began to cover online services, including Tricare, United Healthcare, Aetna, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“We’ve been working really hard to explain to insurance companies why teletherapy needs to be covered, and giving parents a script to use to explain when calling on their own, why there shouldn’t be a disruption in therapeutic services,” Masci said. She said that she expects most insurers to make the decision to cover online services over the coming months, making it easier for kids to get the support they need at this time.
You can learn more about Skills on the Hill by visiting their website and schedule services such as TeleTherapy and Consultations at www.skillsonthehill.com/teletherapy. Follow the 6 Ways to Play @skillsonthehill on Instagram, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter at @SkillsOnTheHill.