Working remotely with children with disabilities and their families – strategies and advantages

This text was originally published by Ana Castro Santos, in PrimeirosAnos.pt1

(…) During this period of isolation caused by COVD-19, my son’s early childhood education (ECE) teacher sent me a fun video, in which he teaches him how to set the table… I didn’t think it would work, but the truth is that he was enthusiastic, and we ended up having a fun time as a family! (…) (S’s mother, 4 years old)

Remote intervention with pre-school aged children is not a new situation. In fact, in several countries such as the USA and Australia, this type of intervention has been used for a long time, especially to tackle the isolation of families living in rural areas. This way, through alternative formats to face-to-face intervention, parents or other caregivers receive information, tools, and strategies to work with their children.

This type of intervention, among others, receives the designation of distance learning, tele-practice, virtual learning or tele-intervention, the latter being the terminology that we will use throughout this message.

Tele-intervention is a methodology used to support families, as an alternative to face-to-face intervention, using videoconferencing technologies and platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Facetime, or other ways of connecting to families via video and audio [1]. Currently, existing technology allows us to be in contact with each other in a closer way, of course if families have the resources enabling them to use it. Nonetheless, some questions frequently arise are: how to adapt the format and methodologies that are frequently used when we are physically close to children, to this new reality of remote intervention? How effective is this form of intervention? What if children we support are children with disabilities?

The routines based early intervention model, by Robin McWilliam, originally structured for face-to-face intervention, emerges as a possible answer to these questions, and seems to meet the requirements of remote intervention [1]. This model, targeting children with disabilities from birth to five years old and their families, focuses on the functioning of children in day-to-day routines and on responding families’ needs, through 6 fundamental principles [1]:

  1. All intervention takes place between sessions – it is the family who intervenes – and professionals work as a support;
  2. The family defines the intervention agenda;
  3. Parents are competent adults;
  4. The intervention meets the needs of families and not the opposite;
  5. Functional evidence-based strategies are implemented;
  6. It is families, not professionals, who choose what is best for the child.

To give a practical example, when defining, together with the family, the organization of routines/tasks, according to the objectives they intend to achieve, it may be necessary to use a map like this, which is elaborated and then sent to the family/or the family sends it to the ECE teacher, using a photograph [2].

The implementation of this model in a context of remote intervention implies only small adjustments, given the fact that we are not close to people, but principles of the entire intervention remain unchanged.

“I have even received good feedback from families, but is this way of working really effective?” (Maria C., ECE teacher)

Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of tele-intervention, namely with regard to support for children with hearing disorders. The same studies reinforce its use with children with other types of developmental disorders, not suggesting, however, the substitution of face-to-face intervention, with the practice previously mentioned [3].

“I have felt the parents are very participative and cooperative and some have shared that they are surprised with what their children are capable of doing!” (Maria C., ECE teacher).

How can I, as an ECE teacher, take advantage of this format?

Literature describes numerous advantages of this intervention format. Many of them are in line with what is advocated in terms of early childhood intervention, as well as with the principles of Robin McWilliam’s Routines Based Model [4,5]. In general, tele-intervention:

  • Promotes family involvement, making them leaders of the interaction;
  • Allows schedules’ flexibility.

For ECE teachers, it makes it possible to:

  • Demonstrate behaviors/skills that are important (for the child and for the family) to be learned;
  • Observe the child’s and family’s routines;
  • Provide live clues/strategies;
  • Talk to families about integrating acquisitions into home routines;
  • Have conversations with families about the objectives defined in the previous session.

Realizing if the proposed activity is too easy or too difficult, if the parents are comfortable with that activity, or what is triggering behavioral problems (frustration, language deficit…) are some of the situations that can occur and that can be understanding for ECE teachers. We can work around these difficulties:

  • Reflecting with parents on the aspects worked on, on successes, failures and learning opportunities;
  • Defining together with parents the activities and strategies to be used in a next session;
  • Assessing parents’ comfort level with a session;
  • Using materials that are meaningful to children and that are part of their daily routines.

All the support provided must be defined together, so that all proposed learning achievements are relevant and meaningful to the child and his/her family. We can also add that this format of intervention reinforces the principle of the natural context, according to which children learn better through everyday life experiences, repeated interactions and with people of reference, and in familiar contexts.

A situation such as the pandemic caused by COVID-19, which forces us to stay at home, we look for tools, we are creative, we adapt strategies, but above all we have to continue our work and continue supporting children.

Therefore, the result of our intervention does not depend on where we intervene, but how we intervene!


  3. Behl, D. D., Blaiser, K., Cook, G., Barrett, T., Callow-Heusser, C., Brooks, B. M., . . . White, K. R. (2017). A multisite study evaluating the benefits of early intervention via telepractice. Infants & Young Children, 30, 147-161.
  5. Davis, A., Hopkins, T., & Abrahams, Y. (2012). Maximizing the impact of telepractice through a multifaceted service delivery model at the Shepherd Centre, Australia. The Volta Review, 112, 383.

1 Integrating the Erasmus+ Project BECERID, is a Portuguese blog aimed at bridging research and practice in early childhood education. has sister blogs in the Netherlands (, Poland (, and Belgium/Flanders ( You can also follow the European Blog at