Media Release: ErinoakKids Innovates to Support Children and Youth with Special Needs and Autism During the COVID-19 Pandemic
September 01, 2020
MISSISSAUGA – September 1, 2020 – ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development has embraced new technologies and implemented extensive new safety procedures to ensure that COVID-19 does not prevent children and youth in the regions of Halton, Peel and Dufferin, and beyond, from receiving essential therapy and treatment, such as speech language therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, assistive device resources, medical treatment, and autism services.
“Our sites had to close to all but the most critical in person services on March 16, 2020, but our staff immediately began transitioning to virtual care, contacting families to provide support and counsel over the phone, and making arrangements to meet urgent care needs, such as repairs to mobility aids, that left undone would have meant a child couldn’t leave his or her bed,” said Bridget Fewtrell, President and CEO of ErinoakKids.
Staff at ErinoakKids sites in Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville shifted into high gear to augment existing supplies of personal protective equipment like surgical masks and sanitizer, source and install acrylic barriers and signage, including floor decals to encourage physical distancing, and implement health screening procedures.
Some services continued to be offered in person, such as urgent medical and audiology appointments for babies identified to be at high risk for hearing loss. Distance services for children with autism were established, beginning with phone and Zoom coaching with parents, but quickly developing into full virtual consultations, and individual and group therapy sessions. Families were provided with resources to support virtual learning, including kits with the same small toys and aids therapists use, enabling children to follow their therapist’s on screen actions in real time.
ErinoakKids therapists worked closely with some families of children with autism who were having challenges with the switch to school being suddenly online. Therapists worked with these children to help them get used to interacting with an iPad, and learning how to follow directions and respond through a screen.
“Our therapists didn’t need to design a new curriculum from scratch to help these children,” said Bridget. “Our highly skilled clinicians just followed the process they always do as part of the Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) process, by working with parents to determine what learning goals they have for their child, and then guiding them step by step, to help them achieve those goals. In this time of pandemic, the goal was learning how to be in school virtually. Our therapists were able to help these young children successfully navigate to the end of their school year.”
For some children, online or virtual therapy assisted them in making tremendous gains. One school-aged child with autism was experiencing real difficulty with toilet training prior to the pandemic period, despite targeted sessions on-site with ErinoakKids’ clinicians. But once therapy, of necessity, became virtual and clinicians observed the child’s behaviour at home, they were able to provide very targeted coaching interventions. As a result, to the delight of all involved, the child quickly achieved full toilet training.
Virtual diagnostic assessments for autism were also found to work well, as children could easily be observed in their home environment, rather than an unfamiliar clinical space.
At the beginning of August, as rates of new COVID-19 cases decreased and restrictions were eased, ErinoakKids began to welcome a small number of children and youth with autism back to its centres for one to one therapy sessions. For some children, in person therapy is the only way to achieve their goals.
“We plan to continue offering both in person and virtual autism services, as we’ve found virtual care to be very effective for some children, while others require an in person experience to be successful. It really comes down to assessing which method best matches the goals and learning style of each child,” said Bridget.
With schools re-opening and enhanced cleaning and protective measures in place, ErinoakKids is in the process of continuing ramp-up of its on-site services, including some very popular programs that involve small groups and learning pods for children with autism.
Response from parents to both established and new services has been highly positive. They say that they value the safe environment and qualified care ErinoakKids provides. Parents are also looking forward to getting their children back into routine, which is especially important for children with autism.
ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development is Ontario’s largest children’s treatment centre, serving 17,000 children and youth annually who have physical and developmental disabilities, autism, communication disorders, and vision or hearing loss. Therapy, medical and support services are provided to children and youth in Halton, Peel, Dufferin County and beyond from facilities in Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville. Learn more at www.erinoakkids.ca
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