Speech-Language Pathologist Sylvia Freire is originally from Florida. She now lives in Ecuador with her husband and three sons, ages 15, 13, and 11. Sylvia became a practicing SLP in 2000 and joined the PL Care Network as a teletherapist in 2015. She currently works with students in Maine and California.
Can you tell us a little bit about your lifestyle in Ecuador?
The city where I live is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It has mountains all around it, but it’s like California because it’s hot, but it’s windy. The weather is similar to California where it rains one minute and the next minute it’s sunny again. When I’m not working, my family and I like to play racquetball, bowling, or go to the movies. We all love a superhero flick.
What inspired you to become an SLP?
I always liked the helping profession. I was previously a social worker. Then I came across an article talking about Speech Pathology and I had never heard of it before. So I did some research and the more I read about the profession and how you could work with children and adults, the more I liked it. So I went ahead and got a Masters in speech pathology in the year 2000 from Nova Southeastern University.
What made you want to be a teletherapist with PL?
The reason I got into telepractice is because my husband came to Ecuador for a job opportunity so we were living here, and when I heard about teletherapy, I thought teletherapy would be a good way to continue with my profession and still be able to live here.
What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?
I can get so much more done in a day in telepractice compared to in person. You don’t have to do the travel time. I could be finishing up with a student, and in a few minutes I can get to another place to complete an evaluation. And when I am done with the evaluation, I can make it to an afternoon meeting. So you don’t have all that down time traveling and going from one place to the next. Originally when I first got my license I worked for Headstart and I went to 7 places within the week. I would drive to 3 different locations in a day. So half of the time was spent just driving. And sometimes the kids weren’t even there, so I would lose a lot of time and money.
What do you find most challenging about being a teletherapist?
Because I’m not able to go get information on my own, I have to rely on others. That has been challenging, but with the help and support of my speech aides and technological tools like texting, emailing, and the telephone, I have been able to overcome this small obstacle.
How do you build relationships with onsite people at the school districts you’re serving to get the information you need to do your job?
Email is key. You can call people; but it depends on their availability, so sometimes that’s hard. I just try to email them as much as possible. For instance, when I have an IEP meeting, I have a form that I email to the teachers, and I ask them for the information I know I need for the IEP—so they just write it in the form and send it back to me. However, if I need to talk with a teacher, I pick up the phone and make an appointment to talk with them.
Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of a PL therapist” if you will?
I have to get up at 5:50 am and get my kids ready for school. My husband helps too. We get them breakfast, make them lunch, and get them on the bus. In between I am getting dressed and getting ready because I start at 7 am. I usually work until 9:30 in Maine. Then I have a half-an-hour break. Then at 10 am I start in California and I usually work until 1:50 pm. Depending on the day I might have evaluations and/or meetings in the afternoon. It works out well because my sons get home from school around 4 pm so I can be with them until my evaluations or meetings start.
How do you keep track of the time changes?
I’m very used to it now. In Maine we are on the same time until there is a time change. I’m very visual. I have on the top of my bulletin board the calendar for Maine. I put my hour at the top and below it I put Maine’s time. Right now we are on Daylight Saving Time so I start at 7 am but I know for them it’s 8 am. It helps me to stay in the right mind frame when I am talking with them. And then for California I do the same thing. I have a little calendar. As soon as the time changes, I change that calendar. Also Google calendar makes it easy. When they send me appointments they send it in my time zone.
Can you describe your caseload?
I work with preschool all the way through middle school. In California, I work with preschool through elementary. In Maine, I work in a middle school and I also have preschoolers. I like having the age diversity because when I work with the little ones, although it’s fun, I think if I did it all day it would be exhausting. When I get to the older kids I need a different set of skills and activities. This helps to keep things interesting for me.
What do you do to plan for a preschooler vs. an older student?
Planning time is the same, but the types of activities are different. For the preschoolers, I always try to have a book on hand. The PL platform has tons of books. But if needed, I can also scan my own books from home, and use them in my therapy. Having a new book ready is a good intro—then I have that for the whole week and I can use it with all the kids. I can plan around the book. Then I just target exactly what they need. I can create a memory game or grab one from the platform—a board game, or any other kind of language activity.
For my middle schoolers, there’s a website called ReadWorks. A lot of my students are working on improving their skills for reading comprehension, answering questions, or writing. So I always find an interesting little article and then we talk about it, answer questions from the article, or write sentences about the paragraph.
Elementary is completely different. I always have 5 key activities that I use with all of them. A lot of students are learning skills for “following directions” so I look for something to help my students focus on following directions. PL has some wonderful following directions worksheets and games. Some students are working on improving their reading comprehension skills and I usually find a book or article on the platform that I can use. If it’s grammar that we are working on, there are tons of games that work on past tense verbs and other parts of speech.
I have all my activities divided in my account under different queues. For example, one may be for books, another for reading articles, and another for holidays like Easter. In addition, I organize a queue for preschool and one for middle school. Taking the time to organize these queues in advance is very helpful and saves a lot of time.
What advice would you offer to a clinician considering making a transition from working onsite to teletherapy?
I think the transition is a little difficult in the beginning but once you get the hang of it, it’s better. You just have to be organized with your time. Because you’re at home, you can’t leave everything for the last minute. You have to act just like you are in the office. Set your office hours. You need to make time to take a break, and to go have lunch. If you don’t do that you’re going to burn out. That’s why I stop for a break at 9:30 in Maine and I don’t take any students until 10 o’clock. Sometimes I end up doing emails but it makes me feel better. I can transition to the next thing. I don’t feel like I have to wait until the end of the day and do everything.
The PresenceLearning Lounge (the online community for the Provider Care Network) is a really good community. When I have questions about a particular student, or about working in a new state, I can ask my questions there. The Provider Care Network makes you more knowledgeable. You know that someone is always there to respond to your questions with creative ideas. You know you can relax and not be scared to take on new challenges. You’re not alone. In addition to your lead, there is a whole community available to help you with ideas and information.
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