Telehealth preparation: children and teenagers with disability, autism or other additional needs
Getting ready for telehealth appointments includes thinking about where to have the appointment, gathering all the information you need, and noting down any questions you want to ask.
There are also extra things you can do to get ready for telehealth therapy sessions for children and teenagers with disability, autistic children and teenagers, and children and teenagers with other additional needs.
Communicating with professionals before telehealth therapy sessions
- Talk with professionals beforehand about what the therapy session will be like and what will happen in the sessions.
- Ask professionals what you need to have ready. For example, you might need to have a floor mat, toys or drawing materials on hand, or professionals might send you some resources.
Think about your child’s and family’s goals
- What are your child’s and family’s goals? Are the strategies you’re currently using working well and helping your child meet their goals? What’s not working so well? Do you have any other concerns?
- What are your child’s interests? Professionals can use these in activities.
- How will you organise the therapy around your family routines, like mealtimes? You can use these as learning opportunities during therapy sessions. This can mean that other family members can take part, if needed.
Setting up for telehealth therapy sessions
- Decide with your child on the best place for telehealth therapy sessions. Look for a space you can use every time. It should be quiet, well lit, private and distraction free.
- Think about how to set up to suit your child’s abilities and needs. For example, what does your child want to sit on? Do they need any fidget toys or comfort objects? Will you and your child need to move around the house during the therapy session?
- Gather anything you’ve been asked to bring or tasks you’ve done since the last session.
- Consider recording the therapy sessions. Other family members can watch them and learn to use the strategies you’ve covered. You can also use the recordings to think about what went well and what you could change for the next session.
- If you can’t record therapy sessions, think about having a support person with you to take notes.
Preparing children and teenagers for telehealth therapy
Preparation for telehealth therapy can help things go well for children and teenagers with disability, autistic children and teenagers, and children and teenagers with other additional needs. Preparation is particularly important if it’s your child’s first experience with telehealth therapy, or you’re having a therapy session with a new professional.
For example, let your child know what the therapy session is for and who they’ll be seeing. It can also help to explain the telehealth therapy session by comparing it to in-person appointments like GP visits. And ask your child whether they have any questions about the session.
There are also things you can do to prepare your child for telehealth therapy sessions.
- Explain that the professional will be on the screen playing and talking with your child. You could show your child a photo of the professional.
- Talk with your child about what to expect in each telehealth therapy session. This might include explaining the activities your child will do, if you’ve planned these in advance with the professional. You might need to use visual supports, a social story or other aid.
- Create a routine to help your child recognise when it’s time for a therapy session. You could use a visual schedule, put a special cloth on the table, and so on.
- Get your child to practise wearing headphones if your child isn’t used to them and needs them for therapy sessions.
Older children and teenagers
- Talk with your child about what to expect – for example, how telehealth therapy might feel different from in-person therapy. You could say that it might feel strange at first, but it’ll soon start to feel normal. Let your child know that they can talk and show things to the professional just like an in-person therapy session.
- Set up a test call so your child can practise talking online and using the software. Your child could practise with a family member in another room or with someone from the service. Allow time for your child to explore the software, check the sound and ask questions.
- Ask your child where they’d like to have the telehealth therapy session. Your child might like to use a stop sign or ‘Meeting in progress’ sign to stop other family members from coming in.
- Reassure your child about their right to privacy. You could suggest playing music outside the room so no-one can overhear.
- Encourage your child to stay focused and approach telehealth therapy in the same way as in-person therapy. Some ground rules might help – for example, no scrolling through social media or eating meals during the session. Muting notifications, closing other applications on the device, and leaving other electronic devices outside the room can help.
- Discuss online security if you need to. Some older children and teenagers might like to be reassured that telehealth therapy isn’t ‘on the internet’ and can’t be seen by others.
During telehealth therapy sessions with children and teenagers
These tips can help a telehealth therapy session go well for you and your child:
- Introduce your child to the professional at the start of the session, as you would in person if they haven’t met before.
- Talk to the professional about what you want to get out of the session.
- Update the professional on new developmental milestones or new behaviour that has emerged since the last session.
- If your child is happy doing another activity when the session starts and it’s difficult to get your child to switch to a new activity, you could ask the professional if they could adapt the session to include what your child is already doing.
- Be aware that you and the professional won’t be able to see non-verbal cues and reactions in the same way as at an in-person therapy session, so you’ll need to rely more on speech.
- If your child will be having telehealth therapy sessions with this professional over a long period, don’t push your child to engage if they’re finding it difficult. The relationship can develop over time, and the professional can find other ways to engage with your child – for example, through interactive games.
What to do if telehealth therapy isn’t working well
If you feel telehealth therapy isn’t working for your child and family, here are steps to take:
- Let professionals know things aren’t working for you, so they can change what they’re doing. For example, you might feel that it’s difficult to use videoconferencing with your child some days, so you might have some parent-only sessions where you share videos that you’ve taken of your child during the week. You could also have some parent-only sessions if you want to talk about how you’re managing your child’s behaviour.
- Go over your child’s and family’s goals with professionals and explain why you think the sessions aren’t helping you meet these goals. You can ask questions about next steps and activities or strategies that the professionals will use in the therapy sessions.
- Explore the way other services offer telehealth therapy to see whether their approach might work better for your family.