Solving the Special Education Crisis through Online Speech, Occupational, and Behavioral Therapies

March 17, 2016

Contributor: 
Amanda Cunningham
Thursday, March 17, 2016 - 10:30am

The Special Education Issue in Schools

More than 13 percent of America’s school-aged population—more than six million children—require special education today according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Given this challenge, compounded by a nationwide shortage of special education teachers and related services clinicians, schools struggle to provide the federally mandated services these students need to progress academically.

Five of the biggest problems facing schools in providing special education is:

  1. Insufficient capacity. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 students to each counselor, but the current national average is 1:471—clearly not on par with recommendations.
  2. Excessive special education caseloads that under-staffed schools just can’t handle.
  3. High demand for assessments creating an overwhelming workload that results in negligence of consultations, observations, and direct services, leading to noncompliance.
  4. Finding specialized expertise for every student just isn’t possible for many schools and districts.
  5. Jam-packed school schedules that leave no time for additional special education assistance.

Across the country, schools and districts are leveraging digital learning to overcome these staffing and resource challenges in order to improve student outcomes and to address the many needs of their K–12 students. Whether to expand course options, to provide assistance to those who need additional help through online speech, occupational, and behavioral therapies, or to provide an alternative learning environment, digital learning is a nontraditional method with proven success.

How do online behavioral, speech, and occupational therapies work?

All a school needs to get started with online occupational, speech, and behavioral therapies is a personal computer with an up-to-date browser, an Internet connection, a high-quality webcam, and a headset. Using these inexpensive, simple, and readily available technologies, students log in to a secure, online therapy session—either by themselves or with a group of other students. The sessions involve interactive activities with live, fully credentialed speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists.

Each of the therapists works with the onsite paraprofessional to coordinate each student’s needs. The session length, content, and frequency are all individualized per a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan. Students are assigned to a therapist who gets to know them and their specific issues and develops a bond with them through the course of the treatment. Therapists fully communicate with the student’s other teachers, attend meetings via video or telephone conferencing, and document student progress with real-time reports.

SPEDinsight-PresenceLearning Platform or reporting

Therapist and administrator view of a student's progress.

Real-time progress monitoring tracks a student’s status, tracks IEP delivery, and utilizes many administration tools. Online occupational, speech, and behavioral therapists can deliver assessments, generate IEPs, hold and attend meetings, set curriculum-based goals/activities, and assist with general special education case management.

Parents are even able take an active role in their child’s progress by logging in to a secure account that shows attendance, session notes, and indicators of progress. Parents can also view a live session and observe how the therapist works with their child. 

An online therapy session in progress. 

Examples of how online occupational therapy works on four key school-related skills:

  1. Fine motor skills: handwriting, cutting, and keyboard typing
  2. Visual motor skills: catching a ball, copying designs, and producing correct letter formations
  3. Sensory integration or sensory dysfunction: ability to block out background noise or feeling okay if another student accidentally bumps them
  4. Self-care tasks: tying their shoes, zipping coats, and opening lunch packages

All of these skills can be done online using items readily available in schools and classrooms such as rubber bands, scissors, modeling clay, softballs, coins, pencils, paperclips, etc.

But Does Online Therapy Work?

More than 20 years of research and 40 academic studies affirm that online speech therapy (“telepractice,” “telehealth, or “telerehabilitation”) is an effective and appropriate therapeutic choice.

A fifth grader from California, who saw and felt their own progress through online therapy, stated, “I couldn’t make friends till I met Mrs. Garcia. She helped me understand people better.”

For more information, check out our informational webinar on the benefits of online occupational, speech, and behavior therapies!

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