Vikas Maheshwari, OT, grew up in a small town in the east of India. He did his undergraduate degree at Delhi University in India, graduating in 2003 with a degree in Occupational Therapy, and came to the US in 2006 where he worked in several California school districts—San Diego, LA, Alhambra—practicing occupational therapy in the schools for six years. He joined the PresenceLearning network in 2018. Vikas loves travel and music. He lived for two years in Mexico, and played a Mexican instrument called the jarana in a traditional Mexican band while living there.
What inspired you to become an OT?
I always wanted to be in the medical or educational field. I wanted to be a teacher or doctor. Those were the options that were open for me. I met someone when I was in my high school who was an occupational therapist, and he was from the college that I later graduated from. He showed me a pathway. So I thought that being an occupational therapist would be the best fit for me.
What made you want to be a teletherapist with PL?
Before working with PL I had worked with various school districts in California. In 2016 I had a stroke and teletherapy seemed like a good solution for me to continue working. I also love to travel and to live in different parts of the world. Teletherapy gives you the flexibility of living and working from different locations, all you need is a computer and a reliable internet connection. Knowing about different cultures is also professionally enriching. For example, I lived in Mexico for two years and now I have a functional knowledge of Spanish. I have provided services to students whose parents only speak Spanish. I did my research on various teletherapy companies and PresenceLearning seemed the best—I believe it is one of the first companies to begin serving students remotely.
Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PL therapist” if you will?
I do certain exercises for the stroke for two hours a day. I have my breakfast, do my exercises, play my instrument and then get ready for work. I start with planning the activities for each student before the sessions. At times I note them down. I then hold the sessions. If there is a gap between the sessions, I write the session notes. Otherwise I do it when I have completed all the sessions for the day. I try to complete the documentation of the sessions the same day. I also try to reply to the emails the same day.
At the end of the day, after I finish my documentation, I wind down and go to sleep.
How has the PL platform enabled you to help your students and schools?
The PL online platform has many excellent features like Screenshare and Siteshare, queuing, the whiteboard, etc. that make online sessions easier, productive, and much more fun. Younger students enjoy the stickers on the PL platform.
What age range/student population are you currently serving?
I work mostly with elementary age children, but this year, I assessed high school students, as well.
What do you enjoy about being a provider with PL?
I enjoy the very supportive team, including Clinical Account Managers (CAMs), excellent tech support, and seasoned colleagues. I can interact with the community in the PL Lounge, professionally and socially. So, for example, there are certain occupational therapy activities shared by some of the members of the Lounge in the therapy ideas channel, where people sometimes post their ideas on therapies. And generally, one of the CAMs posts some activities. For social interaction, there is a group called therapists abroad that I visit. I also enjoy the flexibility to choose the days and hours I want to work.
What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?
Before my first few virtual sessions I was quite apprehensive about the effectiveness of my sessions. But within a week I realized how creative I can be to make the virtual sessions as successful and productive as the sessions at the school. An example I can give you, the students at home sometimes don’t have access to as many materials as in the schools, even in virtual sessions. Some schools provide more materials. So, for example, when working with a student in their home, instead of theraputty, I use a piece of paper and ask the student to crumple it. I show them and the student crumples the paper and tries to stretch it back out using only one hand to improve their in-hand manipulation skills.
What challenges have you faced and how have you worked to overcome them?
Initially communication with teachers was a challenge. While working in person at the school districts, it was easy to reach out to teachers and have a direct face-to-face conversation with them. It was more complicated emailing and scheduling online meetings with the teachers in teletherapy. But with timely planning and scheduling, effective communication and collaboration with the teachers is possible.
How have you been helping parents and caregivers, many who are now acting as the primary support person with their child?
In my first session, I explain everything I am working on and the current level of functioning of the student. For example, I explain that their child has difficulty putting spaces between the words at the appropriate line orientation and sizing the letters correctly (oftentimes this is the goal of the student) so we’re going to work on that area. I sometimes send them a copy of the adapted paper via email so that the student can size the letters correctly. Almost all of the elementary students I see have a handwriting goal.
How do you collaborate with teachers and other school staff?
After reviewing the students’ IEPs and after the first session’s observation I suggest adaptations and equipment (like a pencil grip, highlighted paper, paper with raised lines, inflatable sit cushions, etc.) and activities that can be included in daily classroom routine for improved participation. I also email worksheets to the teachers that the students will be working on at the sessions.
How do you build trust and rapport with parents?
I listen to their concerns and work on the areas of concerns. I explain the goal/s and how will it help that student in accessing his/her curriculum. I also keep updating them on the progress made. The parents are very happy to hear about their kids’ progress.
What tips do you have for other providers getting started with telepractice?
I was skeptical about teletherapy initially. But you learn so much, and you get creative. And there is always great support, an excellent library for ideas, and great supervisors.