online speech therapy

Do Students Respond Well To An Online Speech Therapy Environment?

online speech therapy

Many students receiving Related Services this school year are getting their speech therapy via teletherapy. Diana Martin, SLP, became an E-Therapy teletherapist 4 years ago, after spending most of her 32-year speech pathology career providing speech services to children attending brick and mortar schools. We asked her to share her experience as an SLP with students receiving speech therapy online vs. in-person.

Diana, you were a Speech Therapist in schools for 28 years, and a teletherapist for the past 4 years. What is a challenge that you faced as a school-based clinician that you hoped teletherapy would solve?

When I worked in schools, having an ideal on-site location was never guaranteed. My on-site settings ranged from light airy offices with windows and bookshelves to supply closets with no ventilation or proper fire exits. Advocating for my students’ goal progress often started with advocating for an appropriate therapy environment. 

Supply closets? That doesn’t sound like a good space for teaching and concentration.

Not really. Making sure my students received a quality service when working in schools was often challenging and required creativity and deal-making. During the summer months, when my school’s custodians were toiling in the heat to clean the building and classrooms, I would visit the school and scrounge for chairs and kidney-shaped tables. I knew that a better therapy room set-up meant increased student engagement and higher-quality sessions. And high-quality sessions meant increasing the likelihood that kids would show stronger progress. 

Then, one would expect that online sessions would eliminate that challenge.

Providing an adequate on-site therapy setting for my speech students was often no less challenging than providing an adequate online therapy setting. Well-designed therapy rooms, both on-site and online, acted like an assistant that I could count on to help with behavior management, pacing, and session success.

With the need for physical distancing in the classroom, I think many teachers have discovered how important the environment is for classroom management, etc. What do you suggest to teletherapists when setting up an online environment?

When visualizing an online therapy environment, think of your web conferencing app or therapy platform as the tool or furniture you use to sit and interact with a student. The web-based activities and materials you use act as your on-site bookshelf of games and toys. In both settings, the interactions between the child and therapist are the focus. 

The BIG question that school-based SLPs, teachers, and parents want answered is:  Do speech therapy students do well in an online environment?

In my personal experience, students I served in an online speech therapy setting made comparable and sometimes better progress than my on-site students.

Besides the environment, what do you think influences success?

I observed better attendance among teletherapy students. Since student therapy schedules doesn’t conflict with other classes, recess, or school assemblies, time isn’t lost searching for and fetching students.

And I want to go back to the teletherapy setting for a minute because it is such an issue in school settings.

When you are a teletherapist, there is no more take-what-you-can-get that you find in a school-based setting! As a telepractioner, I had increased control over the therapeutic environment. The room I used in my home to conduct teletherapy was dedicated to that purpose.

I was seldom able to control background noise in the school settings I worked in. This proved to be a distraction for many students receiving therapy. Most of my online students wear a headset which decreases background noise and aides them in their concentration and focus. In my dedicated teletherapy space at home, I had control over the lighting and the heat, which also kept me more comfortable.

Another big concern we hear from school-based SLPs is about the materials. Are you limited with what you can use online compared to in-person sessions? 

Not at all. Because of the web-based nature of teletherapy, I was able to quickly toggle between flashcards, online games, videos, and books. These materials helped increase the attention and response opportunities for my students.

How did communication with the adult caregivers in the student’s life change? Did you find that parents were more responsive due to the convenience of online sessions?

Absolutely! I was able to spend more time modeling and communicating with parents online than I did as a school-based SLP. As caregivers participated more actively as therapy partners, they quickly learned that speech therapy wasn’t like being tapped by a magic wand. Speech therapy required hard work from the child, the SLP, and the caregiver. Parents also experienced how the SLP responded to their child’s learning frustrations by providing supports that fostered a feeling of success. And even more important were opportunities for parents to witness their child’s learning candle catch fire. The emotions on the faces of my students and their caregivers during those electric moments and the bond that formed between us was tangible, even through a webcam. 

Thank you for speaking to us, Diana!

You are welcome. Anytime!

Wondering about the web-based activities and materials that teletherapists use in their sessions?

Check out our blog category called Teletherapy Activities. We share new ideas regularly!

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