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Teletherapy Has Changed Me

In my 19th year as an occupational therapist and 41st year of being human, I have become one of those old OTs who is stuck in his ways. What I did worked. Well, maybe not in my old principal’s eyes but you can’t win them all. The students made progress, the parents were happy overall, and I was able to provide the essentials for my family (shelter, food, water, and bubble tea). I was pretty content coasting in life as long as I felt that I was moving and growing.  If I felt stagnant, didn’t like my job, and/or my job didn’t like me, I would just move or change jobs. My life was like a river and these changes were small obstacles that I either went over or around. I was always on the same path as a therapist whether or not I changed jobs or moved to a different state. Overall my job description didn’t change (weather didn’t change either to my wife’s dismay), just the building. I still had to complete documentation, attend IEPs, and sit through staff meetings that were usually about some core standard. I still worked with kids, and regardless where I moved those kids still liked Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite and YouTube videos of kids (sometimes grown adults) open packages or play the games they like. Then COVID came and provided a fork in the river. Do I try teletherapy or just collect unemployment and skip the bubble tea?

As you probably guessed, my bubble tea addiction won out or this would have been a very short blog post. So many questions ran through my mind. How is this actually going to work out?  How will a three year old attend sessions on the computer? Scheduling is going to be a bitch (and it was).  How are groups going to work? Where am I going to work in my house with my own 4 and 7 year olds?  How often do I have to change positions before I get a decubitus ulcer or deep vein thrombosis? Just like most of my life, I will learn in the process. This is a totally new experience for me and from what I’ve read most therapists were in the same boat. I approached the situation as if I was starting a new job (same job description, different building).  The one thing I didn’t realize was how much I would change as a therapist. I would quickly become the person I hated the most… a combination of Ryan from Ryan’s Toy Review and Blippi.

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Now, hate probably isn’t the best or most accurate word to use but something irks me when my kids watch them. Maybe it’s my own insecurities or jealousy (probably some childhood trauma that I buried deep down in my psyche). It boggles my mind that a nine year old boy makes millions of dollars opening gifts or a 32 year old man makes money dressed like a child and playing with toys and running through playgrounds while making weird noises (Blippi’s background is actually interesting). To be fair it’s not just Ryan and Blippi that annoy me, it’s also the adults who make videos playing with Barbies that drive me crazy. I can tolerate the videos of kids making slime or playing with food, maybe because it’s more hands on and it’s kids. Now my daughter wants to have her own Youtube videos and chances are I will end up making those too. When I say “chances” it actually means that I already did. Stay tuned!

Now back to teletherapy! I have a very limited supply of materials, but I knew having my own kids would come in handy one day and that day finally came. I was able to “borrow” some materials which included pencils, crayons, scissors, paper, and Play-Doh. That’s about all I needed and it’s about all the parents had too. Once my schedule was completed (which I want to emphasize again was a bitch), I was ready to start. My caseload consisted of students ranging from ages 3-12 with various diagnoses. My attendance was pretty good, about 85 percent showed up but only after ten minutes of email reminders, text messages, and later a phone call. As for ESY attendance, no bueno, but I couldn’t complain because for every student that was absent I would do some pushups, air squats, or stretches. Overall the actual sessions worked out pretty well. Most of the children were engaged as long as the parents were there to redirect if necessary. All of my sessions incorporated some drawing and coloring (I wrote a whole blog post on drawing). At times, I would have whole families drawing with me.  Occasionally I would have a 4 year old student who the parent would set up, then leave (I’m assuming just the room but who knows maybe they went out for an errand). During that session, I spent most of the time saying things like “Um I don’t think you should be doing that / climbing that / throwing that / eating that / picking up the dog / holding a knife, etc. When the parents were present, it was pretty nice having them engaged with their kids, unless that engagement was yelling at their kid and forcing them to sit down while the kid rolled around on the ground and cried. I insisted that they didn’t have to sit down or engage in all activities and that we can always try something else. That didn’t always work, so that’s when my transformation happened. 

Since I was using my 4 year old son’s room as my office I had to scramble around and grab whatever I could find which was a monster truck, a stuffed animal and a shark.  I started making noises and talking in a high pitched voice and moving the stuffed animal around and driving the truck over my head and oddly enough the student stopped crying and sat there and stared at the screen. He was mesmerized and engaged and I kept it going. The parent was happy and the child appeared to be happy and that’s what was important, right? Little did they know that I cried myself to sleep that night after realizing that I had become what I hated most, a combination of Ryan and Blippi, and I will never be the same therapist after that session.  Maybe that’s actually a good thing.

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Check out Double Time Docs. Answer simple questions and your eval is generated automatically.

Illustration by Icelin Gonzales: Instagram @bananatrashart; TikTok @banana.ers

Thanks Vivi Bubble Tea for supporting my bubble tea addiction.  I finally understand how people get addicted to Starbucks.  If you are ever in central New Jersey please visit.  Best staff and service! 

Vivi Bubble Tea
1945 Lincoln Hwy Suite #4
Edison, NJ 08817
(347) 223-6792

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