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Provider Spotlight: Araceli Saldana, M.A., LSSP

For Clinicians

, By Claudia L'Amoreaux

Introduction

I grew up here in San Antonio, Texas. I went to the University of Texas at San Antonio. I got my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree there as well. I’m married and I have two little ones—a five-year-old and a two-year-old. They keep us busy and on our toes. On the weekends we take them out to the playground. My first career was as a graphic and web designer. My husband and I are both artists, very different kinds of artists, but we’re both artists and he does graphic design also. If I had to describe my style of painting, I’d say maybe cultural or folk art, definitely not realism. I have this style that I use—it kind of looks like stained glass. My husband is the realist. He can paint a picture of somebody that looks like a photo. We try to incorporate art in our lives and in our kids’ lives. We take them to museums and sometimes we have family painting nights. They love it, my five-year-old is really creative with his drawings.

What inspired you to become a school psychologist?

I’m really interested in helping kids, and helping the adults in the kids’ lives—the teachers and the parents—to understand their needs and their differences in development. When I was in school, special education was designed primarily for severe and profound needs. As I graduated and started my master’s degree I realized it has changed completely, the field of special education—it’s more inclusive. It’s based on a spectrum of needs—low to high needs, but they’re all needs. And, what I really enjoy in my profession is bridging that gap between needs and the adults in the students’ lives and then as they get older, I help the student to understand their own needs and advocate for themselves.

I have worked in schools as a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology or LSSP for seven years. I was with a district for six years, and then I started contracting for a year. That’s when the pandemic hit, so suddenly we all went remote, and I really found that I enjoy remote service.

What made you want to be a teletherapist with PresenceLearning? 

I’ve always been tech-savvy. The high school that I went to was targeted toward web development, coding, and graphic design. I love technology, so technology has always been a part of my practice. I’ve always tried to incorporate it because it catches the students’ attention and it makes parts of my job easier. My last year at that district, we had a recruiter from PresenceLearning talk to us about the services that they offer. 

The recruiter was the first time I’d ever heard about teletherapy. It was in 2019 in January or February, a while before the pandemic hit. I remember that the recruiter was talking about being able to provide evaluations or special education teachers, behavior specialists, speech therapists. And they gave us a comprehensive overview of the company.

And I thought, Wow, that’s amazing, and so I kept them in the back of my mind. And then the pandemic hit and all schools went remote. I really enjoyed working remotely, being home with my kids, and being involved in their learning. So when everybody went back to school, I thought about PresenceLearning. I have always heard great things about the company and decided to apply to see if it was the right fit for me. I got an interview really quickly, and I realized this is going to be a good route. 

Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PresenceLearning therapist” if you will?

I wake up at 6:30 am, make breakfast for my family, and drink coffee. I check my email and calendar for the day. I typically schedule 1–3 evaluations per week and I prepare for those evaluations by printing out protocols and reviewing referral information. I usually take a lunch break in between evaluations. On days when I do not have evaluations scheduled, I will check the assessment logs for my school sites to make sure all evaluations are scheduled as needed; or I will write reports and complete any documentation that I need. I have set days/time-periods in the week for counseling, where I schedule 30-minute sessions with 15-minute breaks in between for documentation. I also have set days/time-periods within the week to attend IEP meetings. My days usually end at 3:00, which allows me to pick up my kids from school. When we get back home from school, I will sometimes work for a few more hours.

What I do in the evenings depends. There were times in March and April where I had to work super late. I try not to work too late,  so that I can unwind and go to sleep. So how do I unwind? Really just spending time with family and friends, watching movies, and making art.

How has the PresenceLearning platform enabled you to help your students and schools?

The PL platform is user friendly, fun, and interactive. The students love the games we play during counseling. They also enjoy receiving animated awards, which serves as an immediate reinforcement for them during testing or counseling.

What age range/student population are you currently serving?

I’m working in a school in downtown Dallas right now, where all my students are from. I have a three-year-old, a five-year-old, and a 15-year-old.

I’m only licensed for Texas. Previously, I was assigned to two rural districts located in small towns in Central Texas, where they had difficulty getting LSSPs.

These were my first districts and they were amazing. Those districts had never used PresenceLearning before, but they were totally open to it. We were able to get together like a little team, so that we could do autism evaluations and some early childhood evaluations. Those were my rural districts and then I did have a district that was in my city in San Antonio, which was urban. And so that was cool to be able to serve my community. 

I am preparing to work with a three-year-old child for an autism evaluation. I just got his referral so I need to call the parent to do an interview and administer some rating scales. In a couple of days we’ll schedule the student to come in to the district so that the assessment team and I can do the autism evaluation with him. He’ll go into the district and I will observe him remotely using the PL platform. The district has two on-the-ground people that I work with. One is a speech pathologist, one is a diagnostician, and they set up the room for a play-based evaluation with toys and other materials. And then they set the computer up on a table, and usually they have another camera—an external camera—so I see the whole room.

What do you enjoy about being a provider with PresenceLearning?

I enjoy several things. One of the biggest things I enjoy is the fact that I get to service under-served areas in the state and being virtual makes it easier to connect to so many more students and schools. I also enjoy my extremely flexible work schedule, which allows me to be available for my kids when needed.

What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?

I was surprised at how connected I feel within the PL community. I have made so many lasting connections with other providers and with staff at my different sites. I could connect with other school psychologists in The Lounge across the states or I can narrow my search to Texas providers only. I discovered a group of school psychologists who have what they call Coffee Club. They meet on Sundays, and they’re from all over, up north and California and I forget where else but I’ve joined them a couple times and it’s fun just to be able to connect with my PL co-workers.

One of the directors at a district I was assigned to is an amazing and experienced school psychologist. She’s the Director of Special Education, so she’s very busy but she has always made herself available to bounce ideas off of her or if I needed to talk through a case. She still does evaluations and some counseling, but her primary role is the director. And so I thought that was really cool because you don’t always get to build that connection with other school psychologists when working in-person, due to high caseloads and other assignments. 

What challenges have you faced and how have you worked to overcome them?

I personally did not have a learning curve through my transition. I feel that the systems and procedures that PL has in place very closely mimic the in-person modality, so it was easy for me to just jump right in.

How have you been helping parents and caregivers who are acting as the primary support person with their child?

I’ve had about six evaluations, where the parent was the PSP. And they all went very smoothly. It was very similar to working with a PSP in a school district. I called the parent to schedule the remote evaluation, made sure their computer/laptop met the technology requirements, and then went ahead and completed the evaluation.  

How do you collaborate with teachers and other school staff?

I collaborate with teachers and other school staff members through email, phone, and/or text message. Most districts have given me a district email so I have access to all of the teachers’ emails if needed. I also have access to their SPED documentation systems where all of the referral information is uploaded.

How do you build trust and rapport with parents?

I build trust and rapport with parents through phone conversations or through virtual meetings using the PL platform.

What tips do you have for other providers getting started with telepractice?

I think the biggest tip would be to really find a good scheduling system that works for you. I learned to put everything on my Google Calendar. So whether it’s a parent phone call or if it’s a record review, I have to schedule it. If it’s not scheduled, it will get overlooked. So, scheduling with reminders, color coding the schedule—blue is for testing, orange is for parent phone calls, things like that.

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