Supporting families of deaf children online during coronavirus pandemic

Noel Kenely
Tuesday, March 24, 2020

We are experiencing a phenomenon that few of us have experienced before. Having our daily routines altered and limited for an unknown period of time. We are adapting and learning every day and getting used to doing things differently.

At the charity Auditory Verbal UK, we work with families of young deaf children across the UK. Our programme equips parents and carers with the strategies and skills to develop their child’s listening and spoken language.

Families usually travel from across the UK to our two centres in Bermondsey, London and Bicester, Oxfordshire for fortnightly appointments with specialist Auditory Verbal practitioners. Some families who follow our fortnightly programme of therapy sessions live far away from our physical centres and have previously opted to attend therapy sessions ‘virtually’ through various online platforms over the past few years.

During these challenging times, the safety of our staff and all those who use our services has been paramount. We have moved all our appointments to online platforms and staff are working from home. Having delivered appointments through these platforms to families over the past five years, we were in a fortunate position to have the main systems in place and are now supporting families who have not previously experienced sessions delivered in this way.

How does therapy via tele-practice work?

Tele-practice in the world of healthcare has been around for quite some time. Ten years ago, studies had already been published on the benefits of tele-practice used when providing therapy for children. 

Auditory Verbal (AV) therapy is a parent-coaching programme, so the main goal of each session is to ensure the parents are coached in using different strategies to support their deaf child’s listening and spoken language. This makes the use of tele-practice much more straightforward, as the main service user is the parent. In essence, the need to be physically in the same room is greatly reduced as the parents can still be coached by their AV therapist remotely.

Top 3 tools needed for tele-practice therapy

  • Make sure you have a strong internet connection

It may seem obvious but for effective coaching to take place, the therapist must be able to provide in-the-moment feedback. We are also working with very young children who cannot wait around for buffering to take place for them to play with their parents!

  • Make a plan for the session with the parents beforehand

This way the parents are prepared in advance about what to focus on and to choose the best-possible location for the session to take place. Planning with the parents can take place in various forms, it could be a couple of emails exchanged prior to the session to set out the goals together, a phone call or even dedicating the first 5-10mins of the tele-practice session. This all depends on what will work best for the parents.

  • Find the right place to hold the session

The practitioner will need to find a room with minimal distractions, so find somewhere quiet and with a plain background so that the message is always delivered clearly. For the families joining the session, talk about what will work best for them. They may want to have a session in their living room which is where the majority of their day is spent or in the kitchen. Discuss with them how to create the best-possible listening environment for their child. It may be that the window needs to be shut, or appliances switched off. Some soft furnishings like a table cloth can also go a long way in reducing noise from reverberation.

You may also wish to use specific toys during the session, but this is something that will vary from family to family and depending on the goals being targeted in the session.

Going exclusively online during the COVID-19 pandemic

Necessity is the mother of invention. Telepractice started off in professional practice to overcome difficulties related to travelling. The delivery of family-centred early intervention has already been reported as showing equal benefits to that of intervention delivered in person by the therapist (Coufal, K. et. al., 2018; McCarthy, M. et. al., 2019, 2020). 

Today’s necessity is for families, who want to access therapy sessions for their young deaf children without the need to leave their home. 

This was the first week of delivering all our therapy sessions exclusively via tele-practice. We were delighted to see how parents were willing to try something new and to learn from the experience of others. It was a reassuringly smooth transition for our families which has meant that there was no need to miss any sessions. 

There were and still are a few creases to iron out, some families may not have a large enough screen for video-conferencing, whilst others may have poor or no internet connection. For this reason we are still working hard to think creatively as an organisation to offer intervention even to these families.

Noel Kenely is a senior auditory verbal therapist at charity Auditory Verbal UK.

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