December 2, 2021

County health department providing intervention services virtually

Keeping in touch from afar

Photo provided by Maria DeRado

Maria DeRado, a special instructor with the Cortland County Health Department’s Early Intervention Program, holds a virtual session Friday. The technology allows specialists to evaluate children even when they’re apart.

Holly McLean and her 2-year-old son Calder have worked with Maria DeRado, a special instructor with the Cortland County Health Department, since Calder was 4 months old, McLean said.

A medical condition that has delayed development in speech and physical activity have led Calder to therapy sessions by the department’s Early Intervention Program to track his development.

What were once face-to-face interactions have switched to digital platforms as the coronavirus pandemic has required strict social distancing guidelines. Teletherapy sessions have been set up to keep sessions between clients and instructors and therapists happening.

“It’s like been a crash course for me,” DeRado said on learning how to do teletherapy sessions.

DeRado, as a special instructor, spends 30-minute video sessions interacting with children up to age 3 through games, songs, and reading books, she said.

Children who receive therapy services must first be tested in five areas of development to see if children qualify for services with the Early Intervention Program: physical; social and emotional; speech and language; adaptive behavior such as eating, using the bathroom or sleeping; and cognitive.

Before the coronavirus pandemic occurred, DeRado and other instructors and therapists with the program had to do therapy sessions in person, whether at the child’s home or a place that they would normally be in, like a day care center, she said.

With COVID 19, she has been doing tele-therapy sessions for the last 2 1/2 weeks.

“This was a totally, completely new thing,” she said. While she and other members of the program are still testing out different platforms, their work with children continues.

But it has a challenge or two. Children don’t always understand how technology works. They’ll pick up the tablet or phone and move it all over the place rather than focus on the instructor or therapist, DeRado said.

Kids may also exit out of the video software or turn the tablet or phone off.

“It’s been a difficult crisis and early intervention is all about relationships,” said Ianthe Warner, a clinical team supervisor with the Cortland County Health Department.

“My therapists have been all about keeping those relationships and support during this time.”

Warner said therapists can use the platform of their choice, like Zoom, but the switch is limited to people who have the tablets, smartphones or laptops available to use. She didn’t know if the department was providing equipment to the families, too.

Calder McLean has interacted with DeRado through the sessions for the last two
weeks, his mother said. “It’s been great.”

Photo provided by Holly McLean

Calder McLean, 2, plays Friday in his McGraw home. Tele-therapy sessions with the Cortland County Health Department’s Early Intervention Program help kids like Calder get help, even when coronavirus keeps him apart from instructors.

Sometimes, DeRado will play with Atticus, her cat, while Calder McLean plays with one of his stuffed toy cats on the other side of the connection, Holly McLean said.

“It’s been really nice to have these services continue despite not seeing her in person,” Holly McLean said. “It’s the next best thing.”

When the virus passes, however, McLean wants to go back to in person visits with DeRado. But tele-therapy sessions do leave the door open for other ways to hold the sessions.

“It’s best to see them in person,” she said. “But if we can’t, we can use it as a backup and won’t be missing a session.”