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Provider Spotlight: Kathleen M.

Kathleen M., MA, CCC-SLP, grew up in Parma, a little suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She earned her Masters degree at Kent State University in 1991, and has practiced as an SLP for 29 years. She’s done everything from long term care to brick-and-mortar schools and for the last five years, teletherapy with PresenceLearning. She moved to Florida in 1997 as a traveling speech therapist with the idea to explore the country and the world but her husband at the time fell in love with Florida and they stayed. Kathleen has two children, a step daughter just turning 30, and a son in his 20s. She loves to travel and is looking forward to going to Vietnam for her next adventure when travel restrictions are eased.

What inspired you to become an SLP?

I started out in social work, did my first externship, and realized that social work was not for me. I was flipping through the course catalog trying to find something new and happened to flip on speech therapy. I took my Introduction to Speech Therapy 101 course and absolutely fell in love with it. And the professor said to me “When you know what my speech disorder is, come tell me.” Within 6 weeks of the start of the class, I went and told him he was a stutterer. And he said “A. That’s the fastest anyone has figured it out and B. How did you know?” I told him he paused at odd times. He urged me to become a speech therapist—of course I did, and I have loved it ever since.

What made you want to be a teletherapist with PresenceLearning?

I was looking for a new challenge, a different way to deliver speech therapy services, and the freedom to work from home or anywhere in the world.

What do you enjoy about being a provider with PresenceLearning?

I enjoy my students, the ease of the platform, and the friends I have made in many different parts of the country and world.

What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?

About a month after I started with PL I had a session where when I was finished I realized I was working with students like I always had. The technology didn’t change how I interacted with my students. It was just a different tool to use to provide the students with speech therapy services.

At first the technology was overwhelming. I am tech savvy but not to a great extent. Having to see myself on video took a while to get used to. Two months in, I had two little boys who were acting up. They kept getting out of their seats. I shifted to my teacher voice and said “Sit down right now!” And they did. I’m 1500 miles away. I’m not exactly sure what they were thinking I was going to do. The kids don’t even see that you’re not there. To them, you’re right there. They are so used to being online. It really doesn’t make that big of a difference.

There are a few things I wish I could do hands on, like articulation placements for the R …but that’s where a good school-based paraprofessional support person comes in. Sometimes you need someone else’s hands to help you.

What do you find most challenging about being a teletherapist?

Interacting with principals and peers at the schools has presented challenges. Since I am the “online” therapist I tend to be “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to scheduling meetings, sending students to speech, and being kept in the loop for student progress.

Two out of three of my schools are very good about communicating with me. My paraprofessionals keep up on all the meeting dates. It’s just one school where I need to be proactive. I check in with the principal once a week and give an update on what happened this week. I have all the teacher extensions. If the kids aren’t there for their session in 5 minutes, I just pick up the phone and call the teacher extension. I’ve learned to be very proactive and almost borderline intrusive.

How did your practice change during the COVID-19 crisis? Did you transition to working in homes?

My two schools that have paraprofessionals did really well making the transition from in-school to in-homes. In one school, my para and I assumed we would be transitioning to home like the teachers. By the week before the transition, my paras and I had contacted all of the parents, and we’d gotten all the info out to parents on how to sign into my room. The schools closed on a Wednesday and by the following Monday I was already doing sessions. I only missed two sessions. I did have to change schedules a little to accommodate parents who were locked down and working from home.

The coolest thing that has come out of all this is I got to know the parents because a lot of times, I don’t have that opportunity. I’ll just have emails back and forth. I got to meet and really get to know the parents. It was really nice to build rapport and relationships with them. And it was great for the parents to see what their kids were actually doing. I think it worked both ways. Typically, the kids go home from school and the parents ask them what they did in speech and the kids say they played games. It doesn’t seem like they’re doing anything. Now the parents are actually seeing what they’re doing.

Technology was challenging at first. Most of my schools are in central California. For a lot of them the internet connection is not great. We would have intermittent internet signals where the video would freeze or drop. But the parents stuck with it. Tech support from PresenceLearning was fantastic. They would hang in there with us and help us get those connections.

Another school I have transitioned really quickly. They just set up and stayed the same. I had a few parents there who needed to make schedule adjustments. It was a difficult transition in the one school I am in without a paraprofessional. I had to do all the contacting of the parents myself. Even though the parents had my phone number, sometimes parents wouldn’t recognize the number and wouldn’t answer because they get so many spam calls. So I finally had the school secretary make the calls. In the other schools, the paraprofessionals and I did the contacting together so it went pretty smoothly.

Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PL therapist” if you will?

Prior to the Covid pandemic, my day would start at 7:30 am ET working with students in one of my schools. Then I had a break for about 1-2 hours. I would use this time to complete documentation, IEPs, Evaluation reports or I’d have the option to take my son to breakfast (usually a Friday thing). Then I’d move to my West Coast schools.. I have two schools in two different districts in California. I would be at both schools on the same days. I could easily move between schools with just a click of a button. No travel time required!! I’d finish my day usually around 3 pm ET but on Mondays it would be around 7 pm ET. My commute home is instantaneous. It is a great feeling to know I am not losing family time in traffic. I also work at a local pediatric clinic in my home town on Tuesday through Thursday after PL.

In the shift to working with students in the home, for the most part scheduling stayed the same. I did accommodate parents as much as I could with scheduling changes they needed due to being in lockdown and working from home themselves. During the first two weeks, families didn’t stay in the school routine. Some of the schools took two weeks to get up and running. Some schools closed right after spring break so that made it hard to get the new routines. Kids were in vacation mode. It took a little while to get the new structure in place. It was hard on the kids and the parents.

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