As students have made their return back to to schools for the 2020-21 academic year, speech and language therapists have decided to make a comeback of their own.This year however feels very different to me compared with the past. A truly bittersweet feeling; a mixture of relief at the return to face to face working but also the pang of uncertainty of the new ways in which I would have to work when I returned to work.
A Speech and Language Therapist will often go into a number of settings during the week, with a Mary Poppins bag filled to the brim with engaging activities for the children and young people we support.
I personally go into both Primary and Secondary schools and have found that each one is doing things differently (risk assessment) aside in how they are keeping everyone safe.
In secondary schools there is a clear 2 metre distance marked in all classrooms a box were the teacher or in our case the speech and language therapist will be and beyond that the students, it is a new way of working having a bigger distance from the students than I am used to as generally our sessions would be less formal than usual school lessons, also we used to be found in our therapy room and now I am collecting students, using one-way systems or working between year bubbles within different classrooms meaning the use of sprays and hand sanitiser at every corner, entry point or classroom.
In Primary schools there is a lots of hand washing by students between activities but it is much more tricky to keep the children separated by a 2 meter box at the front of the class, not only because many of the classes are generally not big enough to tape off an area, many of the younger students are curious to the new way of working and have asked why I sound muffled in my visor or why I’m using wipes on resources or don’t understand when you say we can’t use a favourite resource because it involves passing between the students therefore adapting sessions to make them as Covid friendly as before.
Schools that may have once been filled with exciting rooms bursting with resources now look rather different, I.e, fewer desks and a much different seating plan, new rules about how to move about the school and how the students line up, the removal of excess books, libraries closed and toys removed.
Here are my top tips for school based therapists:
Take Precautions: I wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas. Face covering are generally not feasible in the intervention with students so for therapy I usually wear a visor but this can mean you sounds a little muffled and somehow also effects what you hear from the student while all the time trying to keep to the recommended social distancing.
Prepare ahead of time: Think ahead – this is particularly relevant when working in secondary schools when they have set period or year bubbles which might mean you are no longer using a therapy room but travelling from room to room, so interventions/ resources need to be ready and in a folder (I have clear folders for each period with work that I might need)
Before you start now includes cleaning any contact surfaces like desks and tables, cleaning resources or therapy equipment with antibacterial sprays and wipes
Getting back to working face to face with the children and young people is great. Many of the students had not had any contact therapy for six months and I didn’t know how they had coped with all the uncertainties and disruption, I have found that some have been more resilient than others and an open discussion about Covid was vital in easing them back into sessions.
Each student seems to have experienced lockdown differently and the amount of access or on-line work they might have completed has also varied. I feel it’s imperative to now move past the limitations, try and define what skills the students are proficient in and figure out what concepts or skills may need revisiting or recapping, so that we can support our students to move forward and keep working towards their goals.
This is my reality and just like each student has had a unique experience during Covid, I am sure each therapist will have too. I will however leave you with my final thoughts about this matter. Covid-19 has been a surreal and most peculiar time, the best piece of advice I can give is to remember to take care of yourself. This a stressful time impacting on our personal and professional lives. This situation is unprecedented in every way which is why we are activating higher levels of unease due to the uncertainty of what lies ahead, with increased levels of sadness, anxiety, anger and for some real fear.
Therapists need to practice what we preach. Make sure you’re finding ways that help you to reset and find your zen at the end of your work day
Emma McInerney, Speech and Language Therapist