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Penticton company providing virtual therapy to children with special needs during pandemic

“It felt very critical to us to act on this immediately,” Penticton company provides virtual therapy to children with special needs

When Stephanie Chambers heard that her son’s weekly therapy sessions were being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she admits she became worried.

“I was incredibly concerned,” the Penticton mom told Global News.

Chambers’ son, Heath, is five years old and is on the Autism spectrum.

He works with an occupational therapist at Creative Kids Therapy in Penticton every week.

READ MORE: B.C. creates relief fund for kids with special needs during COVID-19

“It helps to regulate him,” Chambers said. “For him to be able to be regulated, it allows the opportunities for learning, for more academic learning that most people are familiar with.”

But with the pandemic forcing the shutdown of services, including face-to-face therapies, Heath is now getting therapy online.

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“It is different and it’s been a learning curve from being able to interact face-to-face and now we are over a computer screen,” Chambers said.

Creative Kids Therapy began offering virtual therapy sessions when it could no longer offer them in person at its clinic.

READ MORE: COVID-19 pandemic taking toll on Canadians’ mental health: survey

“It felt very critical to us to act on this immediately, when we knew we would be closing our in-person services,” said Jade MacKenzie, one of the speech language pathologists at Creative Kids Therapy.

“We didn’t want there to be a break in services for our families because we could see there was so much crisis going on in other aspects of childrens’ and families’ lives. We wanted to be a constant for them to offer routine and structure.”

Going virtual, said MacKenzie, has been a big adjustment for both the therapy recipients and providers,

“The biggest adjustment is losing the toys and equipment that we are used to in our clinic space,” MacKenzie said. “So we have lost our toolbox essentially, and have had to create a new toolbox that’s all online.”

“There are definitely growing pains that come with it, but what is paramount for us is that we add value to the children’s day and that they enjoy their time with us.”

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READ MORE: B.C.’s registered psychologists offering free mental health support during coronavirus pandemic

For Chambers and her family, the ongoing therapy is critical.

Chambers said Heath, like many on the spectrum, thrives from consistency and routine, so even seeing the familiar face of his therapist on a regular basis means a lot.

“It’s absolutely essential, for us it’s the consistency,” Chambers said. “It has just been so good for us in order to keep him well regulated, which really impacts his day-to-day behaviour.”

MacKenzie said while it’s not ideal, there are a number of silver linings that go along with the virtual sessions.

One of them is that conducting the sessions online allows the children, in a way, to invite the therapists into their space, something she said many children are enjoying.

READ MORE: B.C. creates relief fund for kids with special needs during COVID-19

“We are seeing an overall improvement in their well-being when they are online with us,” she said. “They are excited to share their space with us because, for so long, they come to our space and this is an opportunity for them to invite us into their home which, if you have spent any time with kids, they love showing you their bedroom and all of their favorite things.”

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But MacKenzie said there’s a benefit for parents as well, who are now more involved than ever in their child’s therapy.

“It’s been an opportunity for parents to flourish and rise to the challenge,” she said. “They are the only ones on the frontlines now. We can’t jump in in-person to support them so we have to partner with them in a whole new way.”

NS mother shares ‘overwhelming’ experience of caring for kids with autism during COVID-19
NS mother shares ‘overwhelming’ experience of caring for kids with autism during COVID-19

Chambers is grateful for the ongoing service, even if for now, it’s only through a computer screen.

“All I know is that the consistent approach,” she said, “[Heath] is so looking forward to the sessions.”