Speech therapy rebooted by use of online resource
(Calif.) A young student greets the speech-language pathologist visible in the top left hand corner of the computer screen and sits down to play an educational game while simultaneously participating in a live, individualized speech analysis and coaching session.
Online speech therapy, once less favored than in-person treatment, is becoming a more commonly used resource as districts struggle to find and afford speech-language therapists.
PresenceLearning, based out of San Francisco, works with schools across the country providing online speech as well as occupational therapy services for K-12 students. The company currently has more than 600 speech professionals and school social workers in its network.
“Kids are getting therapy who either weren’t getting it before, or who were really underserved,” said Katie Povejsil, vice president of marketing for PresenceLearning. “They’ll do worksheets, they’ll read books, they’ll do flashcards, play games and have conversations. The kids really like it. They engage with it and they pay attention.”
Schools are required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide a “free appropriate public education” to all students with disabilities. However, due to a shortage of speech-language and occupational therapists, many districts have trouble finding or retaining all the on-site personnel they might need – a void that alternatives such as online speech therapy have moved to fill.
Therapists who work with PresenceLearning have a library of approximately 10,000 activities at their disposal which they can use to design a session that meets the child’s needs as addressed in his or her Individualized Education Plan. Lesson plans are put together before the session but can be changed in real time as advisers access different activities to engage students.
“Our therapists love it because they have so much flexibility with the kind of content that they can pull and use on the fly with the kids,” Povejsil said. “If the kid says ‘I’m really interested in dinosaurs,’ the therapist can pull up an activity related to dinosaurs so that the kid is interested in it.”
The activities for a student who can’t pronounce the letter “R” would differ from those for a student who needs work on their pragmatic skills, such as taking turns in conversation, reading social queues or making eye contact.
For these students, many of whom are on the autism spectrum, scenario-based activities in which students apply their knowledge in a real-world context are used. Some of these activities may show a series of faces and ask the student to identify the appropriate emotion, or a student will be shown a snippet of a Disney video and asked to discuss what happened. Students from different school sites may sometimes work in groups of four with the online instructor leading them through curriculum aimed at improving conversational skills.
“The speech therapists that we have are also case managers,” said Povejsil. “They’re managing the whole process of IEPs – the assessments, writing the IEPs, attending IEP meetings, reporting on progress – and most importantly, communicating with the kid’s teachers and parents.”
Therapists, using the curriculum being taught in the classroom, work to integrate it into a student’s treatment. They also maintain communication with both the teacher and parents so that the student can employ their skills outside the sessions.
That way, a student who has always struggled to articulate his or her words can leave an online speech-language therapy session feeling closer to meeting his or her language goals even after the session is over.