Speech Therapy Online

Using technology to deliver benefits for families and educators.

GUEST COLUMN | by Leanne Sherred

As online learning becomes the new normal in classrooms across the country, having strong foundational communication skills are more important than ever. With limited in-person interaction and observation, it’s imperative that children are able to clearly articulate their thoughts, express their feelings, and comprehend verbal instruction.

‘…is there evidence that online speech therapy is as effective as conventional, in-person therapy? Will a child’s progress and quality of care be affected…’

The increased use of online learning coincides at a time when nearly 8% of children in the United States have a speech, language, or voice disorder – with only half receiving some type of speech therapy intervention. These children in particular are at risk for falling behind in class and not achieving their full academic potential.

Making Parents Part of the Educational Experience

Many schools and educators were already delivering speech therapy online prior to the pandemic – and this number has only skyrocketed in previous months. Additionally, many families are increasingly opting to receive teletherapy at home to enhance their child’s progress with supplemental care.

While there can be an adjustment period for families new to this delivery method, one of its greatest advantages is the ability to involve parents in the educational experience. Many school-based speech-language pathologists (SLP) have traditionally been limited in their ability to involve parents in the learning process, and only have the opportunity to update parents on their child’s status or progress during the annual Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting.

However, research has shown that improving a child’s speech and language abilities is greatly enhanced with the addition of parents as active collaborators. In fact, this study not only demonstrated that parent involvement has a positive impact on a child’s communication skills, but that parents were just as effective as SLPs when it came to helping children understand language.

Delivering speech therapy online, through the use of compliant video conferencing technology, enables parents to sit alongside their child during these sessions. They can easily witness the SLPs instruction first-hand and prioritize building strong parent-therapist relationships. Additionally, SLPs can serve as both a teacher to the child, as well as a coach to the parent, arming them with education and skill-building activities to continually reinforce lessons and best practices at home.

Is Teletherapy Effective?

As many school-based speech therapists are now providing teletherapy services, many SLPs, educators, parents, and school administrators have asked the hard-hitting questions: is there evidence that online speech therapy is as effective as conventional, in-person therapy? Will a child’s progress and quality of care be affected as a result of COVID-19?

To answer these questions, it’s important we take an objective look at some of the best available research on the effectiveness and outcome of online speech therapy.

One prominent study was conducted out of Kent State University. Researchers examined two sets of students: one group received in-person therapy for four months, then switched to teletherapy for four months; the other group did the opposite. The study measured how students in each treatment group progressed, with outcomes tracked using GFTA-2 scores (Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation).

At the end of the study, the results were conclusive: “Student progress reports indicated that the children made similar progress during the study whichever treatment method was used. There was no significant difference in GFTA-2 scores.”

Another study from the Ohio Department of Public Health had similar findings. Seeking a way to eliminate a shortage of SLPs at schools across the state, they decided to test the effectiveness of teletherapy. The study design was similar, only this time the two groups of students came from a rural elementary school. Again, progress was measured using the pre- and post-intervention GFTA-2 scores.

The study found that: “Following intervention, students in the telehealth group made significant improvement in speech sound production as measured by change in scores on the GFTA-2. This result is similar to the improvement noted in the traditional side-by-side group.”

Based on a strong body of evidence, including these studies, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has recognized and supported the use of teletherapy to deliver speech therapy services. ASHA is the credentially organizations for hundreds of thousands of SLPs across the country, and is the authoritative voice when it comes to speech therapy delivery.

In Summary

The new reality of online learning presents both challenges and opportunities for SLPs and educators across the country. While technology always has a learning curve, the ability to better engage parents so they can facilitate at-home instruction, as well as the demonstrated effectiveness of teletherapy, should give educators and parents confidence during these uncertain times.

Leanne Sherred, M.S. CCC-SLP, calls Austin, Texas home but studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained her Master’s in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has worked in pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Leanne is currently the President and Founder of Expressable online speech therapy, a company that envisions a modern and affordable way for anyone who needs speech therapy to access these vital services. Check out her blog here.

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