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by Crystal Williams, Ed.M.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the delivery of early intervention (EI) services. To safely meet the needs of young children with disabilities and their families, some states have been able to implement forms of remote service delivery, such as telehealth. Telehealth is generally defined 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 [1]. The regulations for using telehealth vary across states and are subject to change based on a state’s COVID-19 guidelines. Early intervention providers must stay up-to-date and knowledgeable, regarding their state’s guidelines.

Listening and learning from providers engaging in early intervention telehealth practices can help birth-to-three administrators improve implementation in an evolving environment. Therefore, EI providers known to this author and who represent a variety of disciplines in several states 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. This blog post series, highlights their responses 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? To read the first post in this series, use the hyperlink provided. This week focuses on the challenges experienced by EI providers.

What are the challenges of telehealth?

The challenges early intervention providers mentioned reveal a need for training related to the implementation of specific strategies during telehealth. These challenges include difficulty with the following:

  • Determining eligibility and conducting ongoing assessments
  • Keeping track of progress
  • Engaging families in meaningful ways
  • Modeling with families via telehealth (i.e., not being able to find video examples of specific strategies)
  • Sharing developmentally appropriate expectations with families related to telehealth (e.g., how long children should sit or look at the screen during sessions) as well as skill development
  • Demonstrating play for families and their children
  • Supporting children with sensory needs and/or more intensive needs

Other challenges reported by EI providers were systemic issues such as a lack of internet access or the lack of devices needed for telehealth. Additionally, some providers worried for families on the early intervention waitlist or those who had turned down telehealth services and how this pandemic-related delay in receiving services may impact a child’s development.

As a reminder, this blog post is the second in a series four.  To view the first post, click here. The next post in this series will highlight the resources that EI providers have found helpful when delivering EI services via telehealth.