Using Art to Make Teletherapy More Effective

Trained in providing trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies, Reach for the Top Therapy continues to show great creativity in session planning to achieve each child’s goals, with unique activities paired with neurodivergent patients’ interests through teletherapy. This is the story of Emily, a 13-year-old, with a combined diagnosis of Autism, ADHD, Depression, and Anxiety, whose journey to use her strengths to develop areas for growth took a turn for the better under the guidance of her therapist at Reach.

Developing Self-Advocacy and Personal Growths through Creative Expression

Recognizing the unique features of the teletherapy setting and the commitment to serving neurodiverse clients through a strengths-based model, Dual Board Certified Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Reach’s Executive Director Amy Rich Crane is keen on preparing engaging and fun sessions aligned with each child’s interests. To work on Emily’s executive function skills (planning, sequencing, execution, and goal-directed persistence) and self-advocacy skills, Amy introduced a new task that combined creativity and personal interests, inviting Emily to create album covers for two of her favorite artists, Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift, using the digital design tool Canva.

The sessions became a canvas for Emily to express herself artistically, not only selecting colors and graphics that mirrored the styles of the two musicians but also creating two distinct visual identities based on the characteristics she recognized and valued for each artist.  She communicated the differences between each artist’s styles with joy and ease, then her therapist expanded that into understanding different communication styles, and different social expectations others’ are guided by, and through this activity Emily was able to apply that information in an authentic and meaningful way.  It was an opportunity to see her strengths and natural creativity support areas she has been working on; planning, sequencing, task-orientation, and goal directed persistence – that will support her at school and later in life.  

Beyond the creative aspect, these teletherapy sessions became a space for discussions about preferences, communicating to different audiences, and reflecting on how Emily and others’ social interactions are impacting her socially and emotionally, allowing Emily to reflect on, process, and practice skills with tailored feedback. They were able to discuss differences of opinion within the safe relationship Emily and her therapist have developed.  This exercise also served as a valuable lesson in understanding and accepting diverse opinions and celebrating the differences that make us unique – as her favorite artists do.  

How Teletherapy Can Benefit Neurodivergent Patients

At Reach, teletherapy has emerged as a transformative tool for expanding the ways in which the clinic can reach and assist patients, especially during challenging times such as increased cold and illness seasons, snowstorms, and the busy Holiday season. Reach for the Top Therapy’s commitment to teletherapy is distinguished, as the clinic’s team of therapists actively seeks to enhance this innovative practice. Here are some of the benefits of teletherapy: 

  • Comfort and Familiarity: More than an alternative to when in-person therapy isn’t possible, teletherapy is a specialty on its own, especially for neurodivergent patients who often find comfort in familiar environments. Teletherapy allows patients to engage in sessions from the comfort of their homes, reducing potential stressors associated with unexpected experiences on the way into the clinic setting.
  • Flexibility in Scheduling: Neurodivergent patients may have varying levels of energy and focus. Teletherapy provides the flexibility to schedule sessions at times that align with the patient’s most optimal hours, ensuring better receptiveness and engagement.
  • Weather and Health Considerations: Particularly crucial during times of increased cold, storms, and sickness, teletherapy eliminates the need for patients to venture outside, for example, on a snow day. This not only safeguards their health but also ensures consistent therapy sessions even in adverse weather conditions.
  • Holiday Support: The holiday season can be overwhelming for neurodivergent individuals due to changes in routine and social expectations. Teletherapy offers a lifeline during these times, providing a supportive space for patients to navigate and cope with the unique challenges that may arise.

Working on Functional Skills from the Comfort of Home

For Rachel Babcock, MS, CCC-SLP Speech-Language Pathologist, and Community and Client Services Coordinator at Reach, working with a teenage client over teletherapy for over a year has been an incredibly therapeutic experience. Again, the strength-based model aligned with the patient’s interests has proved to be successful.

“He is always eager to join the therapy session on his computer and work on his speech-language skills with me. He has a love for street signs and maps and his eyes light up when I screen share Google Maps to target asking social questions, describing places, talking about past experiences, and visiting them online together through Google Maps. “

Teletherapy has also offered the therapist an opportunity to expand skill functionally into the patient’s home experiences, such as meal and snack preparation. 

“I can work with him in his own home virtually by navigating his kitchen to pack his school lunch or make a snack targeting vocabulary, sequencing, describing, and self-advocacy. I have found that teletherapy has been incredibly beneficial for this client in his use of communication skills with his family members and in his home setting.

Improving Therapeutic Offers Through Ongoing Education

As part of their dedication to providing the highest quality care, Reach’s therapists pursue continuing education. With regards to teletherapy, a notable component of this training is a comprehensive email newsletter curated by Rachel that circulates among the team containing 20 or more resources each month to support their teletherapy practices. These resources include session planning inspiration, recommended readings, research on effective practices, and other valuable tools aimed at enhancing the therapists’ skills and ensuring the best possible outcomes for their patients.

Reach has set a precedent among Seacoast therapy clinics by seamlessly integrating creativity, technology, and empathy to foster growth in patients and therapists. The innovative teletherapy approach, exemplified here by Emily’s creative journey, showcases the power of personalized and inclusive therapy in promoting development. As Reach continues to lead the way in neurodiverse-affirming practices, the clinic’s commitment to specialty therapies, coupled with ongoing education initiatives, serves as a testament to its dedication to providing accessible, effective, and compassionate care for all.

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