By: Jillian Klatt
The creation of the WonderBus early last summer couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time. Many students who have mild-to-moderate communication and learning disorders are left out of district summer programs which are reserved for individuals with more severe needs. This leaves those children with very little options to continue growing their abilities during the critical months between school years, causing some to fall back in progress by the time the school year starts back up in the fall. Some students would typically transfer to a center-based program during this time, but in the heat of the COVID-19 precautions 2021, most private practices were resorting to tele-therapy services. Tele-therapy is great for connecting students to services out of physical reach, but it can come with some downfalls. Parents often have to sit with their kiddos during the full therapy session to keep them focused on the computer and they also become responsible for setting up any physical materials that the speech therapist plans to use in the session. Of the centers that were open, parents had to deal with closed waiting rooms by either waiting in their cars or going all the way back home while their kiddos received services. A huge benefit of a clinic on wheels is that it can pull up to virtually any location, including the homes of Mrs. O’s students. All parents have to do is shoo their kids out the door—which is rarely necessary as kids are so eager to climb aboard the bus they practically burst their front doors down—and then they can continue on with their day, whether it be working or cooking dinner. The WonderBus truly is a wonder because it bypasses any inconveniences imposed on parents and instead makes therapy break time for them!
Being parked right outside their homes also makes Mrs. O extremely accessible to parents if they have questions, want to observe a therapy session, or are looking to learn ways of including speech therapy lessons in family activities. Keeping parents up to speed on their child’s progress and inviting them to practice skills with their children outside of the therapy session can vastly improve their child’s speech and language outcomes. In school- and center-based programs, it usually takes a bit more effort to set up meetings for these types of parent-therapist interactions than simply stepping out into the driveway!
Aside from the elements that appeal to the parents of Mrs. O’s students, the real critics who matter are the kiddos themselves. With most therapeutic services, the benefits really only go as far as the clients are willing to take them. Getting to climb aboard a big blue bus has proven to be an excellent motivator for Mrs. O’s students. Between all of the fun games and toys that the kids can be sure the WonderBus is stocked with, the kids are excited each week to see how Mrs. O has transformed the space. Between jungle, superhero, camping, haunted house, golf, and now a gingerbread house theme, there is never a dull speech therapy session on the WonderBus.
Mrs. O uses play-based therapy, which holds her students’ attention much better than traditional intervention methods and drills, and she tweaks her sessions to appeal to each student’s unique interests. And since everything is contained to the bus, Mrs. O can incorporate some messier materials like glitter, play-dough, and kinetic sand. The WonderBus offers the freedom of a private practice that is its own physical entity, any messes can simply be swept out the back door of the bus! On top of this perk, Mrs. O can hold individualized therapy sessions that are truly tailored to maximize the child’s interests. Client-specific activities often aren’t possible in a school setting where speech pathologists have groups of children with differing abilities to work with all at one time. Not only is the WonderBus a win for the parents and students, but sessions are easier (and more fun) for Mrs. O too!