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Presence Spotlight for Schools: Jennifer O'Keefe, M.S.Ed., CCC-SLP

How has the Presence online platform enabled you to help your students and the schools you serve in new ways?

Our platform is by far the BEST out there! The depth of our library and variety of tools built into the therapy room make services fun, effective, and never boring! In my 10 years as a clinician with Presence, I have very seldom repeated an activity! In addition, that ability to upload IEPs and hold meetings within our rooms is convenient for clinicians, staff, and families!

In our library now we have the community piece—the platform gives you the newest uploads, and it also gives you the most popular so that’s really helpful. I’ve had some clients over the years with very specific interests. For example, I had a girl with autism who really wouldn’t work for anybody, but she would work if shown pictures of cats dressed up in funny costumes.

As odd as it sounds, when you search our library for cats and costumes, you’re going to find something. So the power of that is incredible, plus our team of developers are just so creative, providing tools for games and tools for screen shares, and a lot of recordings. The emojis are always changing. I went for a four-month spurt where I decided I wasn’t going to repeat an activity ever with a student. I got very creative with the way I used things. For example, maybe I used an image as a slide before but the next time I might use it as a circle and paste or some type of game. There’s always something new.

Can you tell us a little about how you collaborate with teachers and other school staff members?

Communication is all fashions—emails, phone calls, texts, video calls. Communication and rapport with these valuable team members is truly what I believe makes the system work. For example, over the summer I had a caseload with more high needs students. I think what was working with that teacher was going back to asking, “How can I help you? This is my expertise in communication. What do you need for the students?” This one new student came to the school. He was nonverbal—he had no communication whatsoever and no picture exchange or augmentative communication device. They don’t have a speech therapist so she’s the special education teacher and trying to figure out how to help this student to communicate.

I sent her the PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) pictures. Then I asked what five pictures she wanted to focus on in the week ahead, and I let her know that I’ll get that to her, whether it involved sending it to her in the mail, or emailing it to her so she could print it out.  So I’m trying my best to serve them. I tell them “I’m not going to be there in the classroom but do you want to turn on a video? I can watch and observe and we can talk about some ways to help this child communicate.”  I just try to be present and let her know I will provide anything that I can to further her teaching of the goals that I was trying to work on. I would work with her to understand what they were working on that week—I think their topic was something like states around the United States—and I suggested how I could help work on that—like incorporating a map in our session.

Teachers work really hard. They have a lot on their plate. So I just try to figure out what I can do to support them.

How do you build trust and rapport with parents?

Consistency and professionalism with communication is key. Always. Often. In my ten years with Presence, there are very few situations that my team has not been able to overcome with parents and staff. Simple things like reminders and text messages go a long way for helping remember appointments, but also I just try to support them and send materials or just listen, right, like “Hey, what’s going on?” or “Hey, if you can get them on the computer, I can give you 30 minutes of free time—I know that Bobby can sit there for 30 minutes and I can definitely engage him for that time,” or “You are welcome to just sit and watch and see what happens or if you want to log in from another room and don’t turn your camera, you can observe like you would through a one way mirror to see what’s going on.” I try to support them with choices, and if they can’t make the session, and things go haywire, I am compassionate and empathetic. For example, I had a parent the other day who completely forgot. They told me later, “We are so busy.” We all forget appointments every once in a while. We all struggle so just be compassionate. I said “Hey, let’s do a makeup session. Let’s start new tomorrow.”

What advice would you give districts considering online therapy?

Have an open mind. If they’re just considering coming on board, check out the videos and demo videos on the website to see what it is like. Observe a session in a therapy room to see how it goes. It’s important to understand the access that is possible. Not only can clinicians log in and watch, parents can log in and watch, and also administrators have access to our portal—they can see everything. Everything is centralized so they can just go look and find anything they need.

Online therapy truly works! Parents, students, and staff that may be hesitant to make the jump are always commenting later about how much they love the idea and concept. The clinician will feel like onsite staff and work hard to please all team members while providing top quality services. Presence only hires the best out there with a selective interview and onboarding process. The quality and conveniences will change your district’s life!

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