Early childhood therapy continues, despite the pandemic, via telehealth sessions

Some child development markers are easy to ascertain. By 2 months, for example, kids should be holding their heads, pushing themselves up on their bellies, and responding to loud noises. At 12 months, kids usually are crawling, standing with assistance, and using single words. When kids are behind, getting early help gives them a chance to catch up and prevent issues cropping up later.

Between birth and age 3, it’s crucial to monitor development, checking that speech, hearing, motor skills and vision are progressing as expected.

Child development experts worry about the sharp decrease in families seeking early intervention services over the past four months. Due to the pandemic, referrals have dropped off by as much as 60 percent over the past four months, according to Achieva Early Intervention, which provides services for kids in Allegheny, Westmoreland and Washington counties. That means it’s likely that many babies and toddlers are not getting the therapy they need.

The downturn during COVID-19 might be due to “the hesitation of having someone come into their home,” says Deb Kraus, associate director of early intervention for Achieva.

The good news is that therapy sessions can be scheduled via telehealth until face-to-face sessions can be safely arranged. Platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts or FaceTime enable therapists to conduct sessions with kids from a distance.

Kraus admits telehealth sessions can sometimes be challenging with toddlers, who have a tendency to “wander out of camera range in a heartbeat.”

“Every child, every family, is unique,” Kraus says. “Telehealth works better for some than others, but early intervention birth-to-3 services are a family coaching model.” That means therapists instruct parents on how to work with their kids until it’s embedded in their daily routine.

“We’re coaching the parents on how to do it,” she says, “which lends itself so well to these virtual platforms.”

Knowing when early intervention services are required is essential. Pediatricians sometimes refer kids, but parents often are the first to notice problems in speech development or motor skills.

If you are concerned about your child’s development, contact Achieva for a no-cost consultation to get started.

“There are some cases where our physical therapists might need face-to-face visits to get their hands on a kid to see how his muscles are stretching and those kinds of things,” Kraus says. “But overall, tele-intervention has been well received by families, and I do believe it’s because we’re a family coaching model.”