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by Crystal Williams, Ed.M.

Historically, in the U.S., individual states have varied greatly in their delivery of early intervention (EI) services; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered even greater differences. Some states have begun using remote service delivery (e.g., telehealth, live video visits). Generally, telehealth is defined by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center as an alternative to providing services in-person using audio and/or video to connect providers with caregivers to support a child’s development within daily routines and activities. The regulations for using telehealth vary across states and have changed frequently as a result of changing COVID-19 guidelines. This requires that early intervention providers stay up-to-date and knowledgeable regarding their state’s guidelines.

During this time of confusion and changing guidance, it is important to listen and learn from those implementing early intervention telehealth, many of whom are doing so for the first time in their career. To that end, EI providers known to this author were asked to complete a brief questionnaire about their experiences with early intervention telehealth in order to share insight and concerns with others in the field. Over the next four weeks in this blog post series, readers will have the opportunity to learn from EI providers who represent a variety of disciplines and live in several states as they share their answers to the following questions: (a) What’s going well? (b) What are the challenges? (c) What resources do you use? and (d) What supports do you need?

What’s going well?

Responses from providers about what is going well in telehealth centered around the ease with which remote services can be delivered and the quality of those services. Several providers mentioned the accessibility of telehealth. Providers like that telehealth offers flexibility in scheduling for providers and families, less travel time, and more families (especially those in rural towns) are able to receive services. Additionally, providers find that it is easier to work with other team members through telehealth—such as having an interpreter available and co-treating with other service providers. Some providers also mentioned that co-treating via telehealth has allowed them to learn strategies from other EI disciplines. The ability to do telehealth from home or the office also allows more time for providers to work directly with families.

When talking about the quality of services, most providers mentioned their success with family involvement and coaching during telehealth visits. One provider mentioned that by using coaching during telehealth visits, she feels as though the families on her caseload are more likely to implement strategies and need less support overtime. Other positives of telehealth include being able to see a glimpse into families’ everyday lives, improved communication between team members, and getting more done in a shorter amount of time during sessions. Providers also report they feel empowered by using a new method of service delivery and learning new ways to use technology and support families.

Next week’s post will highlight the challenges EI providers have experienced when delivering EI services via telehealth.