Among all the pandemic stories about teachers, ESPs, nurses, and health care professionals, a smaller subset of PSEA membership has tended to get overlooked – our physical and occupational therapists. Together they number around 250 members. But the challenges they face during this time, as well as their continued importance to the students they serve, are as enormous as any of their colleagues.
Jennifer Washko, an occupational therapist (OT) in the Tunkhannock Area School District, has been providing OT services to students ages 5-21 with various disabilities for 22 years. This year, she says, unsurprisingly, has been by far the most challenging of her professional life.
Washko’s workload involves both seeing students face-to-face in the school setting while also carrying a roster of students for telehealth through the district-run cyber school.
One positive benefit of telehealth is that she’s found parents and guardians can participate and become more engaged in the therapy sessions.
“I have had several parents remark, “‘Wow, Jen, I did not know OT did this!’”
In the clinical setting, the new demands of social distancing, mask-wearing, and guidelines for sanitization and health practices have added new layers of challenges in a profession defined by physical proximity.
“Safety is the priority! But with that comes the balance of ethical considerations of treatment with the balance of being effective and reaching therapy outcomes.”
One way she’s been able to innovate around the social distancing restrictions is by reimagining “old-school” games with her kindergarten students like Red Light, Green Light; Red Rover, Red
Rover; How Many Steps Before the Queen? And Duck Duck Goose.“The students love it, and there are so many nested skills – motor, sensory processing, visual motor, and social participation that our students are learning. They are engaged, it is purposeful to their development, and they are having fun. They are so adaptive!”
Occupational and physical therapists have key roles