Videoconferencing for serving physical therapy students

In this first installment of the Bright Spot of Innovation series—profiling education service providers across the country using innovative and collaborative approaches to serving student with disabilities during school closures—a school physical therapist guides families with individualized exercises through video

Service provider: Kellie Stukel, a physical therapist who serves children and youth, ages birth through 21

School district: Core Educational Cooperative in Platte, S.D.

Activity: Stukel uses a jointed doll, videoconferencing and videos to help parents guide their child through individualized exercises to strengthen core muscles, flexibility, endurance, and coordination.

Innovation and collaboration

Typically, Kellie Stukel, a school physical therapist for the Core Educational Cooperative in Platte, S.D., would drive about 2,500 miles a month to visit the dozens of students, ages birth through 21, she serves. The cooperative has 12 member districts in a diverse and rural area of 200 square miles and Stukel is the cooperative’s only PT.

But since mid-March, when schools closed to in-person lessons and shelter-in-place orders were given due to the coronavirus, Stukel has had to recreate her hands-on approach to teaching families of young children and students the individualized physical skills needed for their educational benefit.

Stukel had heard of teletherapy but never practiced it. “I thought, how in the world would I do that?” she says. “I need to feel the [child’s] joints, and I need to feel the muscles.”

She remembered that she had a jointed doll that she bought years ago. The jointed doll had always been in her car, but she seldom used it for sessions. Now, Stukel uses private videoconferencing and the jointed doll, which she calls “my little helper,” to demonstrate body positions and exercises to individual parents so that they can guide their children’s movements.

She mainly uses the jointed doll for coaching parents of young children. She also uses videos and videoconferencing to demonstrate how parents can use items around the house to help with exercises.

For example, Stukel suggested that one 2-year-old child stand on a pillow and squat down to pick up a cup to practice balancing and core muscle strength. She coached the parent how to gently hold the child’s wrist for minimum support. Even through video, Stukel could see the child’s improvement.

“Empowering the parents in ways to develop their child’s functional skills using teletherapy has surprisingly been a lot of fun,” Stukel says.

For older children, Stukel has recorded videos of ball exercises to help strengthen eye-hand coordination and motor planning. She also recorded videos of balancing and jumping exercises using items families may have at their homes, such as chalk and duct tape.

She keeps the exercises simple as to not overwhelm students and families. “Keep it simple, keep it fun, and keep setting goals,” she says.

Stukel also is collaborating with students’ special education teachers to incorporate some physical exercises into students’ academic activities, such as bouncing a ball while counting to 100.

Although Stukel said service delivery through videoconferencing and recorded videos is “not ideal,” it is the next best option to face-to-face therapy.

“You won’t go wrong with kids,” Stukel says. “They just want to learn and move. I think they also like hearing my voice.”

Kara Arundel covers special education for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.

Nominate a Bright Spot of Innovation: Do you know an educator who is using creative and innovative approaches to serve students with disabilities during this challenging time? If so, please send your recommendations to Kara Arundel.

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