How to Set up Your Teletherapy Home Office
I have to be honest. When I started teletherapy six years ago, I used a laptop while sitting on a couch in the basement. Yikes. It didn't take long for my back to feel the effects of that set up, and the dungeon feel of no windows to wear on me as well. As I dove deeper into the world of teletherapy and realized it was going to be the work setting for me, I invested in a dedicated home office space. While everyone's needs and priorities are different, I'm sharing what my must have features are for a teletherapy office.
First of all, teletherapy needs to happen in a quiet space. It must be free from noise that would interfere with clear communication with your students (I'm looking at you, Fido). If non-furry members of your family will also be home while you are doing therapy, make sure to choose a room with a door that is away from where they will be. Ensure that your background (what the students see behind you) is not cluttered or distracting, and shows items that are appropriate for your students (or possibly IEP meeting participants) to see. If you do not have adequate lighting in the room, have a window installed. Just kidding- use a floor or table lamp to illuminate your work space so that your students are able to see your face. This is especially important for social language and articulation therapy!
You will need a desk that has ample space for the computer and its accessories, as well as room to take notes or write on test protocols. Many teletherapists use desks that adjust to a standing height to enable them to stretch their legs throughout the day. For those of us with active, young children at home and welcome the chance to sit down, an office chair that you find to be comfortable and provides sufficient support for proper ergonomics is key. For me, a chair with a high back, arm rests, and wheels works best. If your chair will be on carpet or a rug as mine is, I recommend a tempered glass chair mat. As silly as it sounds, it has made a huge difference in my comfort level, as my chair moves effortlessly. I promise it will not break, but I do not blame you if you hesitantly sit on it at first :)
Next up is the most obvious piece of equipment that you'll need- a computer! Many aspects of the computer are personal preference, such as desktop vs. laptop, Mac vs. P.C., size of the screen (go big or go home is my theory on monitor size), color, etc. However, ensuring that the computer has sufficient memory and processing speech for the teletherapy platform that you'll be using is key for decreasing the tech issues. Additionally, it is imperative that you have a webcam so that your student can see you. While most computers now come with a built-in webcam, external webcams can be used for those that don't.
Along with a webcam, a headset is an important investment to ensure you're able to hear your student rather than background noises around you. I also strongly recommend that you choose a headset with a microphone. While most computers have a built-in microphone, you want the microphone to be near your mouth so that your speech is not distorted and your student hears your voice as clearly as possible. Some features to consider are if you want the headset to be over the ear, on the ear, or in the ear. What's comfortable for one person may hurt another person's ears, so be sure to try on various types to get a feel for your preferences.
Subscribing to high-speed internet is another critical component of a teletherapy home office. Teletherapy platforms require a lot of bandwidth due to the audio and video signals that are being shared back and forth in real time. Ideally, the computer should be connected directly to the modem or router, rather than use a wifi signal. You should also consider who else in your household might be using the internet, as that could impede the strength of the signal available for your use.
Now for some extras. These things aren't mandatory, but make your job as a teletherapist easier, more efficient, and/or more comfortable. The first one is a second monitor. It plugs right into your computer and basically acts as an extension of your main screen. You can open documents and programs and quickly move the windows between the two monitors as you'd like. I usually keep the teletherapy platform open on the main monitor, and my second monitor is used for typing notes, reading and responding to emails, and planning session activities. When I'm writing IEPs or progress reports, I don't have to flip between tabs or windows to review data from another system since I can quickly glance between both monitors.
Another honorable mention would be blue light glasses, such as these. They really help decrease eye strain, and plus, I feel like they are trending in teletherapy fashion. I have also found a cork board hung behind my computer is useful for storing the school calendar, reminders, frequently used phone numbers, and other helpful information. I also keep sticky notes and pens nearby, as well as a binder for planning sessions and taking data (the old fashioned way!). The form that I use is a freebie that can be found here.
If you're pursuing a career in teletherapy, be sure to think ahead and consider equipment that will serve you and for the purpose of providing quality teletherapy to your students. My home office has come a long way from a dark basement, and creating my work area has been one of my favorite parts of working from home. I love that it's personalized for my needs, and that I am able to decorate the space using things that inspire and prepare me to do my best work.