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Students with special needs using online therapy sessions after governor's order

Posted at 9:13 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 07:14:59-04

CHANDLER, AZ — Special needs kids in Arizona are feeling the loss not only in their schooling, but in their therapy sessions that typically help those dealing with conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia to name a few.

In recent weeks, many of the therapy clinics that provide life-management skills for these children have shut their doors due to COVID-19.

"We have to adapt, so this is one way to benefit our families and benefit our business," says Occupational Therapist Heather Baumgartner, owner of Way to Grow in Chandler.

On a weekly basis, her clinic was seeing 150 different families. Two weeks ago, she decided it was in the best interest of safety to close her doors due to the risk factors that pose having that close up contact with clients with COVID-19 looming in the area.

On Monday, Baumgartner met us at her shut down clinic to show us how teletherapy, which is basically providing therapy through a video conferencing mechanism, works.

"Squish, squish, squish, now you try it," she says into her screen while her client Arthur is in the comfort of his home on his screen.

"I think we should draw animals," says Arthur electronically to Heather.

The session is happening all thanks to teletherapy. Up until COVID-19, insurance providers and state regulators frowned upon providing such service. Due to the desperate need for these types of services to continue, Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed a declaration allowing for therapists in occupation, physical, and speech therapies to provide teletherapy.

"This is a game-changer," says Heather. "This is what we do as OTs and therapists, we adapt. So, I really feel like this is an excellent opportunity to showcase our profession in a real positive way."

Through teletherapy, the therapist can bring all the tools she would have at the clinic to the home with some basic home items.

"Getting a laundry basket filled up with water bottles and having the child push it on the carpet, and getting that heavy work and feedback into the body it's creating the same results that we would have here in the clinic," she adds.

One clear benefit of teletherapy is the inclusion of family members, especially parents.

"We can use teletherapy as a way to parent coach, for them to model the behaviors that we are showing them and talk about things that work and giving them strategies so they can incorporate them into the home and that's therapy," she adds.

For this therapist and business owner who is trying to survive this sudden shutdown, it's looking at the cup half full and not half empty.

"At least we have this that we can go to and it's a very reliable source for us," she says.

If you'd like more information about teletherapy you can go to Pediatric Occupational, Physical, Speech Therapy & Dyslexia in Gilbert.