by Jennifer Latt
This year has been unique for all of us in so many ways. If I am being completely honest, I have to admit that when we were told we were moving towards doing virtual therapy this past spring, I thought “I can’t do it!” I had no vision how this could take place and I doubted myself even more. I have learned it takes a lot of planning and communication with the families. When I work in the Easterseals building, it is pretty easy for me to roll in and get started with a session. I have been working in the physical therapy department for years. I have a plethora of ideas in my head that I can pull out for whatever I think we need to work on that day. I know what the PT gym has in it, as far as things to play with and use, to help our children meet their sensory needs. At first, I thought “how am I going to get all this information across to parents?” I began to do my research on virtual sessions and then I needed to just buckle down and give it a shot.
My first plan of attack was to come up with what I wanted to accomplish with my session for a particular child. Next, I would try to find pictures of the activities or I would actually have my son step in and I would take pictures of me helping him in different positions to show families what I was doing. I would email these plans to the parents the night before so they could prep. I also asked families to give me a list of items that they had at home, favorite toys, and even take a picture of their playroom so I knew what I could work with.
It has truly been a joy to be able to connect with families during this time. I know that most people would not wish to be trapped at home trying to work and teach their kids and get their therapies in. However, it has been so amazing for me to be able to connect with families and get the opportunity to see how they interact. It has also been beneficial for families to get a greater understanding of what we do and why we do certain activities.
The one obvious down side of all of this for me has been the frustration of not being hands on with the children and not always being able to elicit the intended results. Flexibility has been the key! I want to applaud all the parents out there who have had to put their homes and their lives on display. It is not easy trying to take over the role of therapist or teacher, and understand what we are asking you to do. Know that from my point of view I think the families have been remarkable through all of this. The most important thing I wanted to share is, that as parents, you need to allow yourselves to be silly during your sessions with your children. I know that taking on the role of therapist can be intimidating and overwhelming with all of your other responsibilities. In my experience, I know that when I show some silliness, it makes for a much more productive and fun session for not only the child, but also myself. Some of my most fun sessions are often the most engaging and productive. So give yourself permission to not stress about doing it perfectly, and just enjoy this time as much as possible. Your energy sets the tone for your child.
I would like to give several life examples of how this could play out. I coach high school basketball. It is easy for me to order the girls around and tell them to run and do one activity after the other. If this was always my approach, they would quickly resent me. Instead, I constantly cheer them on and offer positive reinforcement. I run with them and do the activities too, so they know they are not alone. I offer incentives. For so many free throws made, I will make them brownies. If a player really hustles during a game I will bring them a treat.
Both of my children started taking Suzuki piano at a very young age. It was incredibly difficult and stressful to say the least, especially for my son. He learns differently and memorizing very complex songs was at times an impossible task. We did fight! Yet, I knew this was good for him in so many ways. I could have continued to fight or I could change my ways. I came up with incentives. I would cheer him on and hug him. I would have incentive charts for so many repetitions of lines played. I would have his figurines lined up on the piano and when he played through a required line we would play make believe with the figurines.
As parents, when you are asking your children to do activities for school or therapy, don’t be afraid to cheer and get silly and dance around, and make it fun. Be willing to do the activities with your kids or do it first and then have them do it. During music time, clap your hands and sing and dance with your kids. If you put on an exercise video, then put on a funny workout outfit and do it with your kid. During PT for example, if your child has to kick a ball so many times, then when he is done lift him up and spin him around or give him hugs and tickle him so that he associates having fun during therapy. If you are ever in the Easterseals building when I am doing therapies, you are likely to hear me singing bad renditions of made up songs about what we are doing in the moment. I even like to break out with Queen’s ”I like to ride by bicycle” when working on riding a bike. I promise, that we as therapists, are not going to laugh at your silliness during the sessions. You and your child will feel much better and connected to each other when the task is fun and not just something to get done. I know that this may all seem like common sense but often we get bogged down with just getting the task done or fitting as much as we can in our allotted times that we forget what it feels like to be a kid.
I want to end with one of my favorite pictures of my son from when he was little. He had just received this dress up outfit for his birthday. The pure joy on his face at dressing up and being silly is priceless. Try to embrace this kind of enthusiasm when you are working on tasks at home. Don’t give up. Learning to let yourself go and be silly takes time. If you have a bad day and a session with your therapists or teachers doesn’t go as planned, forgive yourself and your child. Every day is a new opportunity.