'A really big experiment': Parents turn teachers amid virus

In this March 17, 2020, photo Olivia Bucks, left, helps her son Keith Bucks, center, with an online class assignment while Ashton Morris, right, works on a handwriting lesson from their first grade class at Arco Iris Spanish Immersion School in Beaverton, Ore.

I have been a licensed speech language pathologist for nearly seven years in Lee County. My colleagues and I have labored alongside you and your children in schools, in parks, in day care centers, and in the offices of our private practice.

Together, we have laughed, cried, banged our heads against the wall, and studied the current research. We have done this together — fighting to make your children the best students and humans they can possibly be, fighting to make our community as strong as it can be.

A tough call

In light of the current coronavirus pandemic raging through our nation and now present in our own community, our private practice made the difficult decision to close our doors to in-patient sessions for the foreseeable future. This decision was not made lightly.

It was based on current White House and CDC guidelines and a deep concern for the safety of our community. Our decision, which is being made by many private practices around the state, leads to some very important questions and concerns.

How will our children continue to receive vital speech and language services during this time of mandated social distancing?

The answer is teletherapy.

Teletherapy allows licensed medical professionals to provide therapy through a live video connection over the internet. The same treatment is provided as if the patient and therapist were in person. It’s just done through a computer.

Unfortunately, in the state of Alabama, teletherapy is not an option for the majority of our patients. This is due to restrictions put in place by insurance companies. In the past few days, we have seen leaps of progress in telemedicine for certain populations in our nation.

A model that works

Our licensing board, the American Speech Language Hearing Association, has recognized teletherapy as an appropriate service delivery model for speech and language services for years. Numerous scientific research studies support the use of teletherapy as a viable and effective service delivery model.

Some of our patients even have special riders in their insurance plans that allow them to be seen via teletherapy, thus proving that major insurance companies in Alabama recognize teletherapy as a viable service delivery model.

As licensed allied healthcare professionals, my colleagues and I are prepared to provide medically necessary speech and language therapy services to patients around the state via HIPAA-compliant portals.

Despite the scientific evidence and current need for teletherapy, our services will remain out of reach for most of our patients unless something changes.

Our patients with language delays, dyslexia, feeding disorders, phonological disorders, apraxia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and a variety of other communication disorders are unable to access their school-based services during this time.

Now, they are being denied access to their outpatient therapy services as well.

The risk of regression in our pediatric caseloads is significant. This concern has been echoed by many professionals in our community and our state.

Speech and language skills are strong predictors of educational and social success as well as future employment.

Regression in speech and language skills during this time has the capability to impact later academic performance in reading and other subjects, impede communication among families, and increase anxiety for children and families.

Families need this

As speech-language pathologists, we are imploring state and insurance agencies to mandate teletherapy coverage for our patients, even if for a finite time.

Vulnerable, at-risk patients and their families need this.

Kimberly Creel is a speech language pathologist practicing with Auburn/East Alabama Speech and Language Services.

Kimberly Creel is a speech language pathologist practicing with Auburn/East Alabama Speech and Language Services.

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