Communication: the key to success!
Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’ve decided to share my best advice for improving communication with your child’s therapist. Parents sometimes feel helpless because they don’t know what their child is doing in OT, PT, or Speech. You can’t be with your child all day long, so you don’t know if they had therapy that day, if it was canceled, if he/she did a great job, etc. If your child is non-verbal it’s even more of a mystery.
Communicate from the beginning!
My best advice for starting the year off right is to communicate with the therapist. I like for parents to send in a notebook so I can write a short blurb about what we worked on. I like to give handouts for suggestions at home and let them know how their child is progressing.
However, some therapists don’t like notebooks. For example, my sister-in-law is a speech therapist. She sees children in groups of five. That means that at the “end” of her session, she would need to write in 5 different books. With 7 therapy periods a day, that would be 35 notebooks a day. Now, what is more important? Writing in the books or working with the kids? You can guess the answer.
For me, I see children individually or in a group of two. So it only takes a few minutes to jot down what we worked on and how the child did. I have some parents who write me back or put a checkmark every time I write. Then I have a few others who don’t do anything. Now I don’t know if they read my note or even saw it. Did the book even go home? After a few of these, I have to be honest: I am less motivated to write in that book. Because 1) why bother if you are not reading it and 2) it takes time away from your child.
Communication Notebooks don’t always work
Sometimes parents send in a book and then they get annoyed when the therapist doesn’t write in it. Here is my advice for that:
1) Write to them first. Tell them you want to communicate and would love feedback about how your child is doing. You would love suggestions for home, etc.
2) If it’s been a few weeks and you haven’t heard from your therapist, write a note to the teacher. Maybe the book is lost or maybe your child sticks it in his desk instead of his backpack.
Sometimes the schedule (the therapist’s or the child’s) interferes with writing in the book, too. In Long Island, most districts do not have their own OT’s and PT’s. So the therapists are from contract agencies, working in multiple buildings and even multiple districts in one day. This means that sometimes they eat lunch in their car in between schools. Life is chaotic.
Anyway, my point is that a day in a therapist’s life is often rushed and scheduled down to the very minute. So is your child’s. They have to fit your child’s OT or PT session around lunch, literacy block, other therapies, resource room and specials. This means they may pick up your child straight from music and then bring them right down to lunch. Maybe they go straight off the bus to the OT room and then the class picks them up on the way to art. The child isn’t in their classroom and therefore they couldn’t grab their notebook.
Communication: Don’t believe what you hear!
Then there is also this scenario:
Mom: “What did you do in OT today?”
Johnny: “We colored”.
The OT: “Johnny colored in a color-by-number sheet to work on visual perceptual skills and matching while laying on his belly to increase upper extremity strength and stability. He is working to increase his endurance for writing.”
Mom: “What did you do in OT today?”
Johnny: “We played games!”
The OT: “We’ve been working on visual perceptual skills and fine motor skills. Johnny has trouble tracking from left to right when copying from the board. We played “Battleship” because it works on all of those skills at once. We also played it laying our bellies to improve Johnny’s shoulder stability.”
See the difference? Kids work hard to sit in school all day, so OT and PT are a great chance for them to move and “have fun”. So most therapists try to work on their therapy goals while incorporating movement and fun for the child. To the outsider it looks like all fun and games. But there is some hard work going on.
Your therapist isn’t going to tell your child all the things they are really working on. So your child won’t tell you.
Communication is KEY to progress and carryover. Your child’s therapist wants them to succeed and so do you. If the notebook doesn’t work, ask if you can email. Some districts don’t want teachers to email, so if that’s the case ask for monthly updates or a phone call once in a while. Keep in mind that your child’s therapist may have between 20-60 other kids on their caseload.
Do you have any tips for communicating with your therapists? Please share!
My niece has a hard time talking to the other kids at school. When you mentioned that as a therapist, you would give different activities to boost their social skills such as playing Battleship and coloring sheets, it inspired me to find one for her. Doing this will not only help her get off to a good start in school but also for the rest of her life as well.