#304 - Therapist Mentoring Session: Setting Up a Sensory Diet for Teletherapy Clients in Schools

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC April 16, 2024

#304 - Therapist Mentoring Session: Setting Up a Sensory Diet for Teletherapy Clients in Schools

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Therapist Mentoring Session: Setting Up a Sensory Diet for Teletherapy Clients in Schools

We recently completed a 2-on-1 mentoring session with a fellow OT practitioner.

We discussed some simple activities to do with her young child as well as brainstormed ideas for her teletherapy clients! 

Some of the topics include: seating accommodations, getting outside, teaching teens about technology, executive functioning, and more!

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Therapist Mentoring Session Setting Up A Sensory Diet For Teletherapy Clients In Schools

During a mentoring session, another occupational therapist (OT) discussed her experience providing teletherapy to students in virtual schools. She sought advice on efficient strategies for delivering OT services remotely to enhance the students' learning environments.

Delivering OT in Virtual Schools

Eligible students receive occupational therapy services as part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) catering to kindergarten through 12th-grade students. This program aims to achieve various objectives, such as enhancing handwriting and typing skills, improving sensory and emotional regulation, and boosting executive functioning capabilities.

Evaluations are conducted online for convenience, helping students with minor issues. However, the assessment process is more complex for those facing significant challenges, requiring family involvement to build a strong support system.

Balancing Screen Time With Virtual Learning

About 75% of her sessions are 30 minutes long and require an internet connection, making it impractical to move children's computer use outdoors. However, adding more outdoor activities to their daily school routine could greatly enhance focus, attention, and self-control.

Children who are navigating the benefits and drawbacks of screen time might find these suggestions beneficial:

  • Creating a Venn diagram helps identify the pros, cons, and compromises of screen use, aiding in finding balance.
  • Installing a screen time tracker helps monitor and record device usage accurately. 
  • Keeping a journal encourages reflection on habits and promotes more mindful screen use. 
  • Engaging in hands-on activities and hobbies, such as arts and crafts or sports, reduces screen time and promotes overall development. 
  • Setting specific times for breaks from screens, such as after every hour of online learning, can prevent excessive screen use. 
  • Encouraging outdoor playtime and exploration helps children connect with nature and engage in physical activity instead of relying on screens for entertainment. 
  • Setting limits and boundaries around screen use, such as no devices at meal times or before bedtime, helps establish healthy habits and promotes better sleep. 

Supporting Sensory Systems In Virtual Learning

Collaborating on a sensory checklist

This tool identifies sensory preferences, explores differences, and facilitates discussions on liked and disliked sensations. It lays the groundwork for a personalized strategy to meet sensory needs daily.

Implement a sensory diet as a model for the student.

Capturing her sensory activity on video to show at the next meeting could be influential. Starting each session with a five-minute warm-up, such as yoga poses, inversions, or relaxation positions, and using visuals or screen sharing for demonstrations can significantly enhance the session's impact.

Discuss the child's feelings during each session

After warming up, check in with the individual to assess their well-being. This is also an excellent opportunity to utilize either the Zones of Regulation or the Alert program.

Help parents enhance the online learning environment

Coaching helps motivate families to get creative by transforming everyday household items—like using baking sheets as scooter boards and canned goods as makeshift weights or for stacking in exercises designed for heavy lifting. 

Collaborate with your school's assistive technology team

Your school's assistive technology team offers a range of solutions for students under the Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) in their Individualized Education Program (IEP). These options can include alternative input devices, text-to-speech software, and specialized keyboards or interfaces for those in need.

Supporting Students With Executive Functioning And Interoception

It's essential to recognize that teenagers face many challenges, and developing their executive functioning skills is critical to their growth, particularly when they're home alone. They must show responsibility by logging into and attending their online classes, creating a college-like environment requiring active participation.

The challenge arises when students skip classes or ignore assignments, highlighting the importance of a reliable routine. Here are some strategy recommendations:

  • Use the phone's calendar and timer to organize their school schedule efficiently.
  • Help students to identify basic needs. 
  • Build self-advocacy lessons into the daily program. 
  • Find extracurricular or special-interest activities outside of the home.
  • Let the child teach you what they've learned.
  • Setting goals for executive functions focusing on sequencing, planning, and prioritizing.

Tips For Better Online OT Sessions

There are various strategies to ensure a successful online occupational therapy session despite the complexity of the process. Using floor space offers many activity options, like vertical spaces by attaching materials to walls.

  • Exploring alternative seating: T stools, wiggle seats, therapy balls, bounce bands, flexible locations, and standing options. 
  • Enhancing sensory support to boost attention, focus, and self-control with fidgets, weights, and resistance activities. 
  • Creating a safe workspace: reduce distractions and promote safety by creating virtual boundaries within their physical environment. 
  • Using interactive and engaging activities, such as incorporating games, videos, virtual reality, or online puzzles, can make the session more enjoyable for children.

Continuing Education Options For Virtual School OTs

Occupational therapists who utilize teletherapy with their students can significantly benefit from:

  • Harkla's courses like 'Improving Focus & Behavior in the Classroom,' 'Sensory Diets,' and 'Primitive Reflexes,' provide checklists to boost engagement through sensory strategies for students and parents.
  • Exploring the Sensational Brain courses on executive functioning offers a solid foundation.
  • Sharing resources with other virtual school-based therapists. 
  • Attending virtual conferences on topics related to teletherapy and school-based OT.  
  • Joining online communities or forums allows virtual school-based therapists to share ideas and resources and support one another.  

Final Thoughts

Occupational therapists can still offer valuable support and interventions to students in a virtual setting through careful planning and collaboration with parents and professionals. Additionally, keeping current with continuing education and networking with other virtual school-based therapists can enhance service quality.

By employing strategies that support sensory systems, executive functions, and interoception, virtual OT sessions can match the effectiveness of in-person ones in fostering students' growth and well-being. Through creativity, flexibility, and a growth mindset, occupational therapists can navigate the changing educational landscape and keep meeting their students' needs.






While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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