Speech sound disorders impact about 5% of the population of kids between the ages of 3 and 17, making them a pretty common childhood development issue. While speech therapy has been an effective solution to treating speech sound disorders for decades, advances in technology have brought about new options for improving outcomes for kids with speech sound disorders. Virtual speech therapy, including remote, virtual teletherapy sessions, as well as technology enhanced speech therapy through apps and other computer assisted therapy, is definitely a rising trend in the field.
Naturally, many families may wonder what exactly virtual speech therapy is, and whether it’s a good option for them. With the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of people tapped into virtual services more than ever before. And, while a return to in-person life has lessened the urgency of needing virtual options for speech sound disorder treatment, virtual solutions can still help support kids with speech sound disorders.
Examples of Virtual Speech Therapy
Speech-language pathologists have been using technology and computers to help improve outcomes for kids with speech sound disorders for as long as those technologies have been around! What began as early attempts to use audio recording and computer software to give kids extra feedback about the success of their practice attempts has expanded into a full range of virtual and digital options for therapists and families alike to access.
Virtual Speech Sound Disorder Treatment via Telemedicine
Teletherapy is a type of telehealth, in which a care provider manages a patient or client remotely, from a distance. In virtual speech therapy services, the most common service delivery model is one where the client and therapist connect via a secure video conferencing program, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, among others. Platforms have options that adhere to strict privacy and security laws, so that the client and therapist can carry out the session without compromising the client’s private information.
Teletherapy has been researched across a number of different communication challenge diagnoses, and continues to be shown to be a reliable, effective option for treatment. Research specifically examining how speech therapy for speech sound disorders may be delivered via virtual sessions has shown promising results for comparable results, or perhaps even slightly better for some outcomes, when examining telehealth and traditional in person speech therapy.
Benefits of remote sessions include flexibility in scheduling, allowing families to see the therapist from their own home, without dealing with commute time. These conveniences, combined with the realization that virtual services are actually pretty effective, is one of the key reasons telemedicine options have remained popular even as Covid-19 pandemic related social distancing has relaxed. Because families don’t have to commute a long distance to a clinic, it’s possible to schedule more frequent, shorter sessions, which can be a better fit for some children than trying to stay engaged for a full 45 minutes or 60 minutes. If you’d like to read more about pros and cons of remote speech therapy services, head over to our article on the topic to help you decide if virtual speech therapy is a good option for your family.
Virtual Supports for Kids with Speech Sound Disorders
Another type of virtual speech sound disorder treatment includes the broad range of computer programs, apps, and other technologies that exist to help treat these types of communication problems. There are a number of different types of technology that speech-language pathologists use to help improve speech skills. The two most common types in recent years are computer programs and apps for mobile devices.
Virtual Biofeedback for Speech Sound Errors
Advances in technology have expanded the toolset available to speech-language pathologists when treating speech sound disorders. These technologies are typically used to provide an additional level of feedback to aid in the client’s learning of correct sound production.
Ultrasound can be used to teach correct placement of articulators. Because the majority of sounds are produced far enough back in the mouth that it can be difficult to visually identify placement of the tongue within the oral cavity, ultrasound provides a different type of visual information, which allows the client to view their own production and compare it with correct placement. Because ultrasound equipment can be costly, it typically is used within a research environment, or at a hospital clinic, as opposed to a school or private practice setting.
Palatography is another type of technology that allows for different visualization of correct tongue placement versus client produced placements during speech sound disorder treatment. Electrodes on a retainer sense pressure from the tongue, and transmit this information to a display screen, so that the client can see how close they’re getting to correct target placement. Palatography equipment can be costly as well, but is more commonly used across a wide variety of clinic locations.
Spectral biofeedback takes acoustical data, or sound data, and coverts it into a visual representation of the sound. This allows the speech therapist to explain more about the features of the sound itself, while having a visual display to aid in helping a client understand the explanation. The therapist can then have the child try to alter the sound they produce through various instruction, and watch how the spectral features of their productions change. Spectral analysis software is inexpensive and easy to use, but harder to interpret to an untrained user.
Apps for Speech Therapy Practice
As mobile and personal computing has continued to expand in popularity, a number of programs specifically focused on speech sound disorders provide therapists and clients with a new set of tools for practice.
There are two basic categories of apps for speech sound disorder treatment. Some apps are intended to help with teaching, and offer video clips and teaching diagrams to help educate clients about the features of different sounds. Other apps provide practice materials to help users, whether intended for clients or therapists or both, have engaging flashcards for speech sound disorder practice.
Latest Advances in Virtual Speech Therapy for Speech Sound Disorders
This second group of apps and computer programs have a variety of benefits. Because of advances in technology, traditional flashcard based speech therapy prompts can be embedded within increasingly complex game play. This offers kids opportunities to play games virtually, which enhances the fun of teletherapy sessions, or reduces the burden on parents to try to engage kids in speech practice. Because completion of a home practice program leads to better gains in progress, these improvements in the interactive elements of speech therapy materials may help families stick to important home practice schedules.
Additionally, the potential to build even more sophisticated technologies for virtual speech therapy is huge with advances in machine learning technology. To read more about Verboso’s goals to gamify speech therapy and build technology to improve access to high quality speech therapy, check out our announcement about our NSF award!
Virtual speech therapy is here to stay and brings promise of improved access to care at lower costs and easier flexibility for families. Read more about Verboso’s solutions for speech sound disorders here!