A young boy plays on a tricycle (U.S. Army photo)
A young boy plays on a tricycle (U.S. Army photo) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

SEMBACH, Germany – For the last several months, the military, like most of the rest of the world, has had to adapt to COVID-19 and social distancing. The Army’s Educational and Developmental Intervention Services is just one of the many programs that has had to find new ways to continue to operate in the new “normal.”

EDIS is the Army's interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures free and appropriate public education to all children. EDIS provides related services (occupational and physical therapy) to school-age children in the local Department of Defense Education Activity schools, as well as assistance to families of newborns and toddlers who have developmental delays, disabilities or special learning needs.

Early Intervention providers help families identify if their child has a delay in one of five developmental areas: adaptive, personal-social, communication, motor and cognitive.

“With schools closed and everyone homeschooling, EDIS has remained flexible for families during these challenging times,” said Christina Poupard, the EDIS program manager for U.S. Army Medical Department Activity Bavaria. “Services are usually conducted in the home (for early intervention services), however, our team has maintained connection with families by continuing their regular appointments virtually or over the phone.”

Since DoDEA has shifted to digital learning, the Related Services team is providing occupational and physical therapy support to the special education team, students and families through online collaboration tools. In addition, the therapists are communicating with their families via email and phone and sending weekly newsletters to address skills needed for school participation.

“Virtual sessions have made everybody, parents and clinicians, a bit more flexible and creative in our presentation of materials and activities,” said Sara Baldwin, the acting EDIS program manager at Landstuhl.

Parents of children enrolled in the program have been appreciative of the virtual appointments.

“Staying connected virtually with our EDIS therapist has been integral in maintaining my son’s speech therapy while practicing social distancing,” said one parent. “Holding sessions via video conferencing has given us real-time feedback and suggestions on actions we’ve implemented at home, allowing us to move in a forward direction with the therapy.”

Another family interviewed at Landstuhl mentioned that after being home for months together, they ran out of ideas and motivation. With the support of virtual EDIS services, they were able to bounce ideas back and forth to keep and prioritize goals.

“I had concerns at first that the therapies would not be as effective, but with the help and guidance of the professionals, my wife was empowered to continue our son’s treatment and he has so far been able to maintain all of his therapeutic gains,” said an Army captain stationed at Vilseck.

Both Poupard and Baldwin noted that there have been challenges operating virtually. Those challenges include internet connectivity, learning new software, parents’ availability due to other children or work requirements, and not all families wanting virtual services

“It has been a challenging few months, but our ability to be flexible has really worked to our advantage,” said Baldwin. “As therapists, we thrive on adapting and modifying ways to help our children and their families participate in their daily tasks independently and successfully.”