TORRANCE, Calif. – Since she was 10 months old, Leah has been seeing a range of therapists that help her with her movements, speech, and more.
“Leah was born two months early. She spent the first seven months of her life in the intensive care unit, so she’s physically and developmentally very behind," said Leah's mother, Lisa Erin. "She didn’t start walking until she was four."
Leah is now 7 years old and has been working with speech and physical therapists for about five days a week at the Pediatric Therapy Network nonprofit in Torrance. But with COVID-19 restrictions in place, Leah’s much needed in-person therapies were no longer possible for the time being. That’s when her mom decided to take an alternative approach to help Leah maintain her progress.
“We pulled Leah out a couple days before everything closed, so she missed her last day or two of school, she missed her last day or two of therapy before everything closed. But we had already started asking her therapists about looking into telehealth and whether that would be an option for her,” Erin said.
Since March, Leah has been working with her therapists online, but this new method requires Erin to help make sure Leah stays on track by setting up obstacles and guiding her along the way. About 70 percent of the Pediatric Therapy Network’s 5,500 families that struggle with social, emotional, and behavioral delays found a silver lining in the virtual programs by having family members assist.
“It’s been overwhelming. It’s been really nice to see how parents are feeling so empowered and the best part of this has been that even after a session ends the therapies are able to continue at home because the parents now know what to do,” said Bindi Gudhka, an occupational therapist at the Pediatric Therapy Network.
The virtual sessions at home aren’t perfect, but the organization plans on maintaining the option by continuing to train their therapists on how to navigate a hands-on and hands-off virtual approach.
“There’s ups and downs to it, but she would be regressing a lot more if she wasn’t getting this, the telehealth services, so I can’t even think about how bad it would be,” Erin said.
The virtual therapy sessions have helped children like Leah maintain the progress they made before the COVID-19 pandemic, and Leah and her mom are hopeful that one day, they’ll be able to see their friends and therapists again in person.