Breaking Ground 104 - What Does Virtual Early Intervention Look Like?

By Lauren LeGate, Public Information Officer (TN Early Intervention System), TN Dept. of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD)

Tennessee’s Early Intervention System (TEIS) provides services for children from birth to age three who have disabilities or developmental delays. On July 1, 2020, TEIS moved to DIDD from its previous home with the Department of Education. Since the pandemic began, TEIS staff and therapists have had to re-think how to safely and effectively serve children and families. That has often involved using teletherapy. Telehealth or teletherapy is a way to provide services and therapies, like early intervention services, remotely via phone or computer. TEIS shared a couple of great success stories with Breaking Ground to show how this option is working well for many children and families.


ARRGGGHHH you loving teletherapy?

We know our coordinators, early interventionists, and therapists are going the extra mile during COVID-19 for the families we serve.  At Pediatric Therapies in Franklin, Occupational Therapist Hilary Boucher is captivating the attention of the children she works with by choosing a different theme for each day.  For one of her themes, she dressed like a pirate and came up with pirate-themed therapeutic activities.   Hilary says the children she works with are responding well and are very engaged.  Shiver me timbers, we have some amazing therapists!

A photo of a woman at her laptop, providing teletherapy to a child and family receiving early intervention services; she is dressed up like a pirate with a pirate hat, vest, eye patch and fake hook on her hand and a big smile on her face to keep the child entertained and engaged in her virtual therapy session.
Pirate teletherapy!

Telehealth with an Interpreter

Telehealth visits look different for every family.  Sixteen-month-old Sophia visits weekly with her early interventionist, Tiffani Dixon, and her interpreter, Gisella Morales-Cameron.  Sophia has been receiving TEIS services for about a year through Emory Valley Center and is continuing to make progress through virtual visits.

Sophia’s mom, Elena, says Sophia has been so happy to see familiar faces. During her first teletherapy visit, she smiled, waved, and showed off her new babbling skills. Elena was able to work with the early interventionist to help Sophia sit up independently. You can see Sophia’s progress in the progression of pictures taken over continuing visits. On her first visit, she is lying down in her crib. In a later visit, she is sitting on her mom’s lap, interacting with Tiffani and Gisella.

Elena says that besides the early interventionist and interpreter, Sophia has five siblings who love to be included.  Since the early interventionist can’t be in their home, she says the children have been very helpful during the telehealth visits, helping Sophia practice different strategies.  Whether it’s through tele-intervention or face-to-face visits (once they start again), we can’t wait to see all of the things Sophia and her family have been working on!

a screenshot of a teletherapy visit; on the screen are two women, the early intervention therapist and the mother of a child getting services, and then an infant laying in her crib is also shown on the video on the computer screen
On her first teletherapy visit, Sofia was lying in her crib.
The picture shows a happy Latino infant girl laying on her belly on a couch, being held by her happy and smiling mom, as Sofia wiggles her arms and legs.
In a later teletherapy photo, Sofia is active and engaged in her therapy visit, showing her great progress.

Teletherapy Captures an Unforgettable Moment

Malachi, a toddler who has received TEIS services since May 2019, was born 11 weeks early. That made him automatically eligible for TEIS services.  Malachi has been receiving developmental therapy through Support Solutions of the Mid-South.  Malachi’s mother, Rene, was determined to continue therapy during social distancing because of all the improvement that she was witnessing with her son. 

During one of Malachi’s teletherapy sessions, Rene was asked what motivated Malachi to stand up. She said, “Elmo videos on TV!”  Early Interventionist Kristina Scott asked mom to turn on Elmo to see if Malachi would stand. When that happened, Malachi took his first steps!  Motivated by Elmo, he took three steps, briefly paused, and then took seven more.

It's an emotional moment for any parent, but especially mom, Rene, who has been working with her son for months.  It's also a moment early interventionists don't always get to witness, so both Rene and Kristina ended the call with tears in their eyes.

an African-American boy baby or young toddler is standing up, steadying  himself on the wall; he is taking his first steps
Malachi brought tears to his therapists’ eyes when he met a major milestone on camera.

If you or someone you know needs early intervention services, families, caregivers, and medical professionals can now refer a child to TEIS on the MyTN app. The MyTN app is meant to be a one-stop-shop for Tennesseans to find useful information about government services. You can download it wherever you access mobile apps. You can also fill out the referral at