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Teletherapy helping children with special needs during COVID-19 pandemic

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 08:38:55-04

CARMEL — It is important for Hoosier families with kids with special needs to keep structure in their everyday lives.

With things out of balance and not being able to make weekly appointments necessary for physical and occupational therapy, Carmel based Children’s TherAPlay is pivoting their services to allow families to easily rebound once this pandemic is over by staying operational and utilizing the skills of it’s uniquely trained staff to meet the immediate needs of the community that have emerged as a result of COVID-19.

Sutton Brost is an energetic seven-year-old from Fortville. Before the pandemic, he visited Children’s TherAPlay every week for occupational therapy, spending time in a clinic and on horseback.

“Part of the therapy takes place on the horse which gives him a lot of really great nero-feedback and then the clinic portion just really helps him become more independent, developing skills for more independent living,” said Laura Brost, Sutton’s mother.

Skills like writing, self-care, memorizing his parent’s phone numbers and Sutton just learned how to tie his shoes.

This kind of therapy helps the Brost and other families maintain a routine. So when COVID-19 physically closed the barn doors at Children’s TherAPlay, the non-profit found a way to keep connecting with it’s patients.

“I was a little skeptical about teletherapy, especially with a seven year old who is really, he is really busy obviously,” Laura said. “But they are super engaging.”

Neva Lutttrull is Sutton’s therapist at Children’s TherAPlay and now does weekly sessions with him through Zoom. She says this new way of working with her patients is putting parents in the driver’s seat.

“We are helping to explain to the parents how to implement these interventions that we were working on in clinic,” Luttrull said. “Trying to help their children adjust to this new routine that children with special needs definitely strive on and that structure that they need helping them build that into their daily life at home.”

Luttrull had never conducted a virtual therapy session before social distancing, but she sees this new challenge as an opportunity to get families involved in their children’s progress.

“I think this is going to change the way us as therapists and parents view therapy as a collaborative method to help our children progress, so we are going to get the parents involved more in session and involved more in the progress of their children,” Luttrull said. “We are definitely considering if this is an option to carry over after we get back home and have a new normal.”

Laura has been working from home and getting help from Luttrull to find a balance so that Sutton can continue to learn and grow.

“If we didn't have access to our occupational and speech therapists right now, I would be a bit concerned about where he might fall developmentally,” Laura said. “I think he is going to regress less, if at all, being able to continue therapy right now.”

The forced change to TherAPlay’s methods has become a blessing for families like the Brosts, who have one less concern while keeping their family safe. And the continuation of Sutton’s routine during social distancing will ease his eventual rebound back to the horse barn.

“It's stressful but I think having the support system that we have, which includes our therapy team, has made this time definitely more bearable,” Laura said.

Almost 75 percent of Children’s TherAPlay’s total family case-load has made the transition to teletherapy.

Children’s TherAPlay says because of the success seen from this, it's exploring options to offer virtual services and resources to a broader community and to use these new skills and options of teletherapy once they bounce back to their “normal” operations.

For more information on Children's TherAPlay, you can visit its website.