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Provider Spotlight: Lynn W.

School psychologist Lynn W. attended the University of South Florida in Tampa where she received her BA in Psychology, and her MA and EdS in School Psychology. She started practicing as a school psychologist in 1992, and began working virtually in 2012, transitioning to teletherapy with PresenceLearning in 2015.

Can you give us some fun facts about yourself to start out?

I grew up in Rye, New York on the New York/Connecticut border. The next town over is Port Chester and then the Connecticut line. The lifesaver candy factory was in Port Chester and you could always tell what flavor of lifesaver they were making by the smell in the air.

In my free time, I like to get out in nature. I love to visit Gatlinburg which is about an hour from here. Great Smoky Mountain National Park is about 30 minutes from me. Every chance I get I go there. I’ve seen four bears this year (from my car) which is a record for me. At home, I feed the birds and like to watch them and the squirrels argue over the bird food. My son just had a little boy in June 2020 so I like to spend time with them—they live nearby. My grandson is the love of my life.

Here’s a fun fact about my graduate program—when I started, Dr. Howie Knoff was the department chair and head of the school psychology program. He was the president of the National Association of School Psychologists. Dr. Knoff is known for his work with Project Achieve and the Stop and Think Social Skills Program. My second year in the program, George Batsche joined our faculty and he was the president of the National Association of School Psychologists. (George Batsche, PhD, NCSP, is respected as a pioneer in the field of school psychology).

So, I graduated from the fifth top program in the US. Today we use RTI (Response to Intervention) to look at children for eligibility—we have to go through a series of interventions either academically and/or behaviorally to try to determine if the child will respond to an intervention before moving on to testing for a possible special education placement. When I graduated, we were using the same strategies through the RQC (Referral Question Consultation) model. I was trained in RQC in my school psychology program so it’s second nature for me to think that way.

What inspired you to become a psychologist?

I married my love of psychology with my knowledge of education and special education. I wanted to be a psychologist and in my junior or senior year of my undergraduate degree in psychology, we had a clinical psychology student come in and he said “Unless you enjoy public speaking, do not go into clinical psychology. You have to make your own job if you want to be in private practice. Otherwise you’re going to be working for someone else or in an institution.” That didn’t sound very appealing. My stepdad was the assistant superintendent of Scarsdale Public Schools which was the number one district in all of New York and my mom was a SPED teacher for 19 years. So I had literally grown up inside education because they had dinner parties with their friends and colleagues who came over to our house frequently. I would overhear principals, teachers, and special education teachers talking about their jobs or their students during the time they spent at our house. I also met both the school psychologists that my mom worked closely with in her district. So it felt natural for me to marry that insider understanding of education with my love of psychology.

What made you want to be a teletherapist with PL?

I started practicing as a school psychologist in 1992. I was working in a brick-and-mortar setting until 2011 at which time my son was hit by a car when he was crossing the road on his four wheeler. He broke several bones in his left leg and ankle, and bruised his lungs. He was 14-years-old and was out of school for six weeks. I took my sick days and then I took family medical leave to get him to and from therapy. I started working when I was on unpaid family leave for Tennessee Virtual Academy so I’ve been virtual since 2012. I was actually working with PresenceLearning as our contractor for speech and language and occupational therapy services through TNVA. So that’s how I knew PresenceLearning. I did a lot of talking with the Clinical Account Manager. So when I applied to PL when TNVA almost went out of business in 2015 and was downsizing staff, my Clinical Account Manager was my reference. I was one of the first school psychologists that PresenceLearning hired.

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

I attempt to get up at 7:30 in the morning. It doesn’t always happen. I have a cup of tea and watch the birds after I put bird food out, feed the dog and the cat, and let them out. I typically come upstairs and start work about 9 am. Whether I am testing or not, I try to be in the chair at 9, either writing reports or getting prepared for a day of testing, because I’m not doing any counseling right now. I’m just doing testing.

I have some schools that are virtual. I have some schools that are brick-and-mortar and are back in session. And then I have one school that is half and half—they have students who come in on Mondays and Wednesdays, and students coming in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then everyone is virtual on Fridays so they’re a hybrid method. I try to either make phone calls to schedule students for testing for my virtual schools, or email my Primary Support Person at the brick-and-mortar schools so we can set up some testing, or I’ll score tests I’ve given, and read reports. I typically try to schedule testing at 9:30, 11, 1:30 so that I can get in 3 students a day. Now I have some schools that are Pacific time so I am testing later into the day. Tonight, once we finish our conversation, I’ll change my clothes and I’m meeting my son and his girlfriend and the baby for dinner. I just took a mini vacation in Gatlinburg from Saturday to Wednesday. One of my districts today was kind enough to give me a log-in for a law conference for Tennessee. I spent my day today online in a Zoom webinar learning all about the Sixth District Court and court cases, COVID-19 regulations, Title 9 regulations, local court cases for us in the Sixth District, and legislative updates. So that was my day today. We started at 10 am and ended at 4 pm.

What do you enjoy about being a provider with PL?

I enjoy the flexibility and the ability to work in multiple states and multiple districts. I’ve made some lifelong friends even in districts I am not working with anymore. In the pandemic, I appreciate the ability to be home and safe because my mother is 86-years-old. If I had to go into a school, I would not have been able to be around her. The benefits now are huge.

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

I was most surprised by the willingness of the children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to interact during therapy sessions because they found it so cool that there was a person in the computer! So I had more success in counseling my students diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder online than I had face-to-face. I had more eye contact and more participation from them.

What do you find most challenging about being a teletherapist?

Setting appointments with the virtual school students has been challenging. It can be challenging to connect with the parents and to help them to understand how the session needs to be handled, as the parents are the ones who facilitate the session rather than a Primary Support Person. Working with parents to train them in how we’re going to handle the situation, what my expectations of them are going to be as we conduct that session, explaining that they can’t rephrase my questions if I am giving a standardized test—those types of things can be a challenge.

Understanding that parents have never done this before and that it’s all new territory for them has helped me to deal with the challenge. We have a 15-minute meeting online so I can explain to them how to set everything up. I tell them my expectations for our session so they know what to expect when I work with their child. I also give them the opportunity to ask me questions and to work our way through that.

Working across multiple states with multiple disability requirements and expectations has been another challenge. I’ve had to learn all of those different states’ rules and regulations. But it’s been an education because every state is different. It’s a challenge but it’s a really good thing. I am very well-versed. The district employees in the various states I serve have been wonderful and very supportive. They have  provided me with resources and the link to the Department of Education in their state so I’ve been able to figure out the different state rules and regulations.

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

I lost my counseling students because my two schools that had been doing counseling chose not to continue counseling online when the students were home. I was in very rural schools in the south when the pandemic started. I think the district chose to not do counseling in the homes due to varying internet access issues. So l lost my counseling students and picked up a lot more evaluations. That’s when I learned how to train the parents on what the expectations were going to be because we made a few mistakes in the beginning. We all learned together about how to set the scene for success.

How has this transition been for you and for your students and their families? It would be good to know what some of the challenges have been and how you’ve worked through those challenges, when applicable.

Last school year and the beginning of this year have been an interesting and challenging time for educators, students, and parents. It has been very gratifying to be able to support school districts, parents, and students as education has moved from the brick-and-mortar setting into the virtual setting. The districts that I served last year made decisions to continue to provide virtual psychological evaluation services in the home setting. This required a new approach, as my Primary Support Person changed from a district employee to the child’s parent. I found it very helpful to have a detailed conversation with the parent prior to the first testing session to explain how the sessions would work and what their role would be. The parents asked lots of great questions which allowed me to change my descriptions of services and expectations as I learned with them how this new role would evolve.

Can you share some of the questions parents asked?

Parents asked questions like “Do I have to sit right there with the child?” I’m testing preschool through high school online so I tell them “With the little ones, yes, with the older ones, generally, no.” That’s a very specific kind of question. They all want to know: What’s my role? What do I do? How long will this take? That’s why I now meet with them for a few minutes before we ever have our first session to define their role.

I explain the process and their role in it. Here’s an example of what I say:

“You’ll log in. I’ll introduce myself to you and your child before we put headphones on so that we can do the testing. We’ll just use the sound through speakers on the computer initially so I can introduce myself to you and your child, and ask the introductory student interview-type questions, especially if the child is younger and has some kind of speech impediment so I can get used to their speech and if necessary, you, the parent, can let me know what she’s trying to say or clarify that this is what he said.” This will help me to learn the pattern of articulation errors so I can better identify what I am hearing. Our conversation will also help me to understand their frustration tolerance, and how supportive I need to be with them. For example, do I need to encourage a lot or do I need to pull back a little? If I encourage them too much, is that going to slow them down? This meeting lets me feel the family and the child out in that respect.

And I can field questions like “What happens next? After all this testing, now what happens?” I can explain that in some schools I am at the eligibility meeting. In some schools I am not. So I have to tailor the discussion about my followup to something like this:

I’ll score everything. I’ll write my report. Either the school will be in touch and they will meet with you, or I’ll be in touch and will set up a meeting time with the school. We’ll go over all the test results and then we’ll talk about whether your child is eligible for special education or not.

How have you been helping parents and caregivers who are now acting as the Primary Support Person with their child?

In addition to having a detailed discussion of their role during testing or counseling sessions, I also provide them with two documents: The Parent Tips and Tricks for Online Psychological Assessment and the Equipment Setup Guide developed by PresenceLearning for their providers. These documents help to facilitate the parent’s understanding of the process of completing a virtual evaluation and clearly outline how to set up the necessary equipment.

What age range/student population are you currently serving? Please include demographic information.

I work for two brick-and-mortar districts in Tennessee, for which I serve children from 3–22 years of age. I am also working for two virtual schools in Pennsylvania and have served children from 5–18 years of age.

Working for PresenceLearning has been wonderful because when you are a brick-and-mortar psychologist, you get to do very little, if any, counseling so that was part of the role that I really enjoyed. My first year with PL, I did some social skills groups, using Howard Knoff’s Stop and Think curriculum which I was trained on when I was in graduate school. I had two separate districts in Mississippi and I worked with both of them on the Stop and Think curriculum and then I did some counseling in Georgia and North Carolina and in Mississippi for a third district. So my first year with PL was basically all counseling which was a huge role change for me. And then my second year we got into the psychological testing so then it was a split between counseling and testing. This is the first year that I haven’t had any counseling. It’s been all testing because we’ve had such a need and a request for testing. And that’s where school psychologists are unique. We can do testing where the school social workers, the licensed professional counselors, the other folks that PL has for behavioral and mental health can fulfill the role of counseling. The testing niche is unique to school psychologists. They can’t have other people doing it. While I am not doing counseling at this time, I am doing a lot more testing and I’m a lot busier than I used to be, honestly. I am enjoying what I am doing now—this is what I was trained to do.

What tips do you have for other providers getting started with telepractice?

I have been a virtual school psychologist since 2012 and I love what I do. Some tips for getting started with telepractice would be: make sure to keep a work-life balance. It is easy to forget to take time for yourself with your office just down the hall. Remember that while virtual service delivery may be the way of work for some districts, other districts are just beginning to explore this method of service delivery, so be patient and help to guide them through the process of using virtual services. When parents and teachers can observe a virtual session, it takes the mystery out of what we do and gives them additional confidence in our services.

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