Speech Therapy Adapts for Students with Special Needs Amid COVID-19 Precautions

June 2, 2020

On a typical workday, Green Chimneys Speech-Language Pathologist Amanda Santangelo utilizes our Brewster campus to bring therapy sessions outdoors. Collaborating with staff, Amanda, like many of our clinicians, customizes sessions with Green Chimneys School students based on their interests and therapeutic goals. The farm, gardens, and trails, provide wonderful opportunities for students to engage, make connections, and practice skills. Since the roll-out of COVID-19 precautions, however, Amanda has had to retool how she supports her students.

Click the arrows above to scroll through the slide deck or click here to view it at a larger scale.

“This has been a whirlwind and despite these challenges, I am so fortunate to be able to still connect with my students,” Amanda explains.

As many can relate, the shift has been significant for both students and staff. Since mid-March Green Chimneys staff have been delivering curriculum and support services remotely (read more about that here). For children with special needs, those who may already have difficulty with communication, developing healthy relationships, and managing self-regulation, this can be an extra challenging time. Our students and families have had to adapt schedules and make time for each support service virtually in addition to remote learning. And students have also had to adjust to not seeing all of the familiar faces they’ve come to rely on.

Incorporating Animal-assisted Activities

During a typical weekday, high school student Clay and Amanda would spend their session on the farm. For Clay, speech therapy most often incorporates horses – his favorite. With the help of Farm Intern Becky Cobban, Clay and Amanda usually spend their weekly session by grooming an equine, walking a miniature horse, or simply observing horse behavior.

“We address pragmatics by speaking about what the animals may be telling us with their bodies. If the horse walks away from us when we walk in the pen, they are probably trying to tell us that they need space and do not want to interact with us right now. This type of nonverbal communication carries over to humans, too,” Amanda explains.

Speech Therapy During a Pandemic

These days sessions involve much more screen time for students, and like many other Green Chimneys staff, Amanda has gotten creative. “I am doing my best to have some normalcy for my students and have some similar aspects between teletherapy and ‘normal’ therapy on campus,” explains Amanda. This is why Amanda recently scheduled a special teletherapy session with Clay. She invited intern Becky to their zoom session. Clay was able to reconnect with Becky, whom he was accustomed to seeing weekly. And then the really good stuff happened: Becky took Clay and Amanda on a virtual walk to “visit” his favorites: the miniature horses. Clay’s smile was undeniable.

“I have not seen Clay as happy or energetic – like the Clay I see on campus – until that session,” concluded Amanda.

While not all experiences can be duplicated virtually, we appreciate the dedication of staff who works tirelessly to serve our students. They’re helping children with special needs find the words and express feelings. They’re creating opportunities for our students to stay connected and they’re continuing to retool how they provide that support for each child’s benefit. Thank you Amanda and Becky, and thank you to our entire staff. And to Clay, and all of our students, keep up the great work!

Show Your Support

Therapeutic education for children with special needs is important. Give to the COVID-19 Relief Fund today