By Jennifer Buckler M.S., CCC-SLP and George Wolford, Ph.D., M.S., CCC-SLP
Midwestern University Speech-Language Institute
As we find ourselves in this new socially distanced reality, many parents are faced with attempting to meet their children’s educational needs at home. Children with speech and language deficits can present unique challenges for which their families feel ill-equipped. Fortunately, speech-language therapy services are still available for many pediatric clients through an electronic medium known as “teletherapy,” “telehealth,” or “telepractice.” Following are answers to common questions that parents might have about telepractice services for speech-language therapy.
What is Telepractice?
Telepractice has been developing over the past two decades as a method for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to work with clients from a distance. Modern advances in technology have allowed for SLPs to provide web-based services “face to face” with clients, using video streaming technology. These services look like typical services from an SLP, except instead of sitting across the table, they interact through the client’s device screen. Advances in virtual interaction platforms and tools for engagement allow clinicians to use books, videos, games, and animation to engage with their young clients. Clients can participate by moving objects, drawing on the screen, and taking turns with the SLP during therapy. The SLP continues to provide high quality intervention to help develop and improve the client’s skills. SLPs can work virtually with clients on sound production, vocabulary instruction, grammar and syntax support, and conversational engagement.
What Do I Need?
A high-speed internet connection and good audio equipment are needed for effective online sessions. Telehealth also requires that video sessions be confidential, which may take a bit of technical setup before the online session. For speech therapy to be effective, the environment must allow for back-and-forth social communication between the child and the clinician. Most high-speed internet connections will work, as will many laptop and tablet devices. During an initial session or evaluation, the SLP will assess the adequacy of the equipment available to the client and help determine if the equipment will ensure a successful telehealth session.
Who Might Benefit?
Children who received special education services for speech and language needs through their school district or a private clinic may also benefit from receiving online speech-language services. Licensed speech-language pathologists provide articulation, language, and fluency services in real time in an interactive environment. School-aged children who need speech therapy to improve their production of speech sounds, understanding and expression of language, and fluency issues are often good candidates for teletherapy. They can follow a model and interact with the SLP in the virtual environment. While not all clients are ideal for this novel environment, an SLP is able to evaluate each child’s appropriateness for the setting and will monitor their ongoing services and progress. For clients who are appropriate for telehealth services, telepractice services are better than no therapy at all
What if My Child Has Trouble Focusing?
Teletherapy may still be an option for children who have difficulty focusing, but through a more consultative approach. Not all children can concentrate on a person on a screen in real time, especially younger children or children who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In these situations, the SLP may be able to provide quality consultation and training with parents. The SLP can train parents how to implement speech therapy techniques by giving instructions during activities such as play. Another option is to teach parents to embed communication opportunities throughout the day into their typical routines. These sessions are about empowering parents, siblings, and caregivers to participate in the child’s speech-language development.
This social distancing situation within which we are currently operating provides us with unique opportunities to explore new avenues for parents and SLPs to collaborate in meeting their children’s needs. Teletherapy allows SLPs to continue supporting their clients and families through direct, real-time treatment, counseling, training, and assessment. There are many clinicians using teletherapy with their clients, and we are all growing and learning together in developing best practices for quality virtual encounters. We become more resilient and more creative as we explore all methods of helping our clients to the maximum extent possible. After this current crisis passes, teletherapy may not only be more widely used and understood, but may also be an option to bridge the gap in services for many children who have a need for speech and language development, but have little access to care.
The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for questions regarding any health or medical condition.
Jennifer Buckler M.S., CCC-SLP, is a Clinical Assistant Professor and George Wolford, Ph.D., M.S., CCC-SLP, is a Clinical Instructor for the Speech-Language Pathology Program at the Midwestern University College of Health Sciences. The authors will provide copies of the relevant research studies upon request. Both Mrs. Buckler and Dr. Wolford are licensed, certified speech-language pathologists who supervise graduate students in their clinical rotations at the Midwestern University Speech-Language Institute in Glendale, Arizona. The Speech-Language Institute utilizes the latest technology to evaluate and treat a wide range of speech, language, and swallowing disorders for both children and adults, at affordable prices. Therapy sessions are now also available through online telemedicine services. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 623-806-7741 or visit: www.mwuclinics.com/arizona