You may be wondering if online speech therapy is an effective way to help your child speak clearly. It feels like 2020 gave us all a crash course in living life with many more virtual and online meetings and services than we were used to. While the overall context of having to switch almost overnight to online everything was definitely stressful, there were some aspects of remote services that may have been surprisingly convenient. Whether you signed up for a grocery delivery service for the first time, or tried your first telehealth appointment, you may be asking—but can online speech therapy services actually help my child’s communication improve as a long-term speech option?
The short answer is yes—numerous research studies have demonstrated similar gains in progress with speech therapy services delivered via teletherapy as compared to in-person therapy services. There are also documented recommendations for speech-language pathologists regarding how to best adapt for online speech services. However, every child is different and every family situation is different. Here are some considerations to help you decide if online speech therapy would be an effective solution for your family.
Considerations for Effective Online Speech Therapy
In an online virtual speech therapy appointment, the therapist is separated from the child by the physical distance of being in two separate rooms. Because of this, there needs to be a facilitator with the child or client. This is an individual who is able to help manage technology needs, like making sure the child is logged in to the session, who can help with positioning of the child to make sure everyone has a good view of each other, or who can help cue the child or reinforce desired behavior with the therapist’s instruction. When your child is having an online teletherapy session in your own home, this facilitator is usually a parent. The benefit of this is you know exactly what helps your child succeed with his or her speech goals. Ask yourself if you feel positive about this additional involvement. In a typical in-person session, parents wait in the waiting room while the child works with the therapist. One option isn’t better than the other, but they are different. Does your child pay attention better or worse when you’re in the room with them? Every child is different in terms of how a parent’s presence impacts their performance—some get frustrated faster because they have an audience, others do better because they have a parent close by. Overall, as a pediatric SLP with ten years of experience, I’ve found that having a parent close by is a positive aspect of online speech therapy.
Therapy is in Your Home
While there are some in-person therapists who travel to your family’s home for sessions, the typical in-person model involves traveling to the therapist’s office. Online speech therapy sessions take place where your child, your computer, and you are physically located—in your home. The cut down on commute time is a definite perk and can save hours of time depending on how far you would have to travel to a therapist’s office, time looking for parking, and waiting room time. However, can you find a space in your home to allow your child to work in a relatively quiet, distraction free environment during their session? Would you mind if a therapist asked you to print a worksheet ahead of a session? A parent is not only more involved in the session itself, but you will also want to find a good location in your home for holding the online speech therapy session. Brothers and sisters may come and go from the session—not a problem for the therapist, but will your child be able to focus on the session with all the distractions of home? The good thing is that this can be a benefit, as young children do well learning in their home environment. For children who may be anxious about appointments, they often feel more at ease in their own home, which can help make attention during online speech therapy sessions better.
Therapy is Well, Online
Like mentioned above, the research to date that’s investigated delivery of service online via teletherapy or in-person has been pretty positive about the results that can be obtained using online speech therapy. Additionally, all speech-language pathologists are expected to follow the ethical code for the field, which includes statements that teletherapy services must be equal in quality to those provided in person. This means that, if for any reason, your therapist thinks that your child will not make expected progress, they are ethically bound to recommend in-person services.
Online speech therapy also requires some minimum requirements for technology. Having access to reliable internet and a device such as a computer is important for good sessions. Your therapist may ask you to have your child wear headphones or use a different microphone or camera. Are you comfortable with being able to log into an account or use a link to access a therapy session?
One of the biggest challenges with online therapy is that the therapist cannot physically help your child manipulate their speech articulators. For the vast majority of kids, this isn’t needed for the process to work. But, if it were for your child, your therapist may recommend that your child have in-person speech.