Communication is vital for human relationships. Our thoughts, ideas and feelings are expressed through the use of speech and communication skills. Communication involves the use of verbal as well as nonverbal modes to express the desired thought. The condition wherein the speech and language of a person are affected, hindering effective communication, is termed as speech and language disorders. Individuals with such disorders need support which involves speech and language therapy. Depending on their needs and skill levels, speech therapy can be carried out directly as well as virtually. Though everyone prefers child-therapist direct sessions, the introduction of technological support to speech therapy helped speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and parents in a wide variety of ways.
The switch from traditional face-to-face speech therapy sessions to online ones has become quite widespread since the pandemic. What’s intriguing is that studies have shown that remote speech therapy is just as effective as in-person sessions. Although live human interaction and feedback have their benefits, telemedicine is likely to become more commonly used in the future.
Pros of Using Technology in Speech Therapy
With technological assistance, individuals who struggle with understanding or producing spoken language, remembering or reading written texts can receive the necessary aid they need. Whether it’s through speech recognition software or virtual assistants, technology has made it easier for people to communicate and express themselves effectively.
Children who use pictures for communication, for making choices, or schedules can easily adapt to the iPad and communication aids. The bright colours and sounds are attractive to children. Certain apps provide pictures with options to add audio or record a voice. The yes/no apps available also include simple buttons to indicate responses with audio. Visual learners respond well to the pictures and visual effects on smart devices. Other apps make use of bright pictures and intermittent music to keep a child’s attention while providing audio words. Children typically respond well to these tools. They also can use them outside of sessions, either by themselves or with parents or family members, to learn and practice, further accelerating their progress.
Technological assistance, such as using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), aids in developing communication skills and enhances language ability for use in any situation or with anyone.
Personalized Learning Experience
Integrated use of technology in speech therapy, such as the use of assistive devices, involves a multi-sensory learning strategy. This type of learning helps the therapist as well as the parents to find the child’s effective and suitable learning technique. Another merit of multi-sensory learning is that children get exposed to various sensory modalities, which can be useful in finding the strong and weaker areas of the child. In addition, smart devices can be very much effective for visual and auditory learners. This, in turn, can reduce the stress level of the child and enable concentration on the activities besides better retention of the concepts.
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Improved Engagement and Motivation
Various free games and animation videos are available online, which can be incorporated into speech therapy sessions. These will not only make them engaging but will also help the clinician to help the child improve their language skills. Technology can yield better performance in children who don’t show much interest in picture cards. The SLP can make the sessions interactive and fun to make learning more easier. Games and other fun activities make learning better and can help the SLP to work on the goals in a play-centred manner.
Enhanced Accessibility and Convenience
We can’t deny that our digital age has opened the possibilities of different learning channels for students. For example, YouTube has countless videos that help users learn new skills or understand a particularly difficult topic in school. Different kinds of online speech therapy materials can be used by speech therapists to help clients in their therapy sessions. They can share the links to new articles to help clients better understand the process of therapy. They can also refer them to video content to aid in their therapy.
Nowadays, the online working mode has made work possible from anywhere, regardless of the location of the employee. The same thing also applies to speech-language pathologists or SLPs. Because of technological innovations like the internet and portable devices, it’s possible to be working with patients all over the country or all over the world. So, as long as they have the internet, those in need of services are not restricted to their geographic location and can seek out the best of the best no matter where they are in the world.
Teletherapy practices have been found to be successful when there are travelling restrictions and where offline therapy sessions are not affordable, and accessibility is minimum. During the pandemic years, it was found to be the most convenient solution for people in need of therapy. Online sessions ensure health safety for both the therapist as well as the children and their caretakers. Technology helps the therapist to work from anywhere, be it any remote area, and provides greater flexibility in time such that both the therapist and the parents need not travel and waste time to reach the centres.
Suggested Reading: How Speech Therapy Can Help Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Cons of using Technology in Speech Therapy
Just as a coin has two heads, the use of teletherapy and speech aids in stimulating the child’s speech has demerits and limitations too. Below mentioned are a few of the limitations that technology faces in speech therapy.
Lack of human Interaction and physical Touch
Technology cannot replace the skills and knowledge that therapists can teach children with special needs. Games and apps on iPads and smartphones are interactive, but the interaction is only between the child and the device. Children also need the opportunity to interact with actual people to learn language and social skills. Developing fine motor skills in young children requires hands-on toys and real-life activities, such as stacking blocks, nesting cups, scribbling with crayons, stirring pots, and playing with sand.
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Potential for Misuse and Overreliance
The use of technology can also be overstimulating sometimes. There are chances of misuse and overreliance. Teletherapy facilities are beneficial but direct sessions are more crucial as there is direct human interaction. Tactile sensation and personal bonds are also absent when it comes to teletherapy. This is also true for the use of assistive speech aids and technologies.
Technical Issues and Glitches
Another factor that teletherapy deals with is the problems with the network. It requires good connectivity and a clear camera source as the therapist needs to closely observe a child and their behaviours and oral movements. Often technical issues are present while doing online sessions, and this can interrupt the ease of taking the sessions and the inclusion of activities. The better the network connection, the more beneficial and successful the session will be.
Cost and Maintenance
Incorporating AAC and technological advancements can incur significant purchase and maintenance costs, especially for children and those undergoing rehabilitation.
Technological machines, devices, and gadgets are so expensive. People pay a lot of money to buy them, and their maintenance cost is also very expensive. Depending on your country’s health system, there may be some assistive devices that are funded by your government’s healthcare or by private insurers, but the accessibility of speech-generating devices and their price may not be affordable for all the children who are in need.
Taking all the points listed above, one cannot completely neglect or avoid technical enhancement in therapy. Considering all the benefits and restrictions, technology has a tremendous influence on children attending online sessions as well as those using assisting devices that help them to communicate. It has also been found that children who cannot communicate verbally pick up the nonverbal modality using both low-tech and high-tech AACs. To conclude, it is better to incorporate and use both technology and direct interactions while conducting therapy sessions for the betterment of communication and to design child-favoured sessions so as to have a unique learning experience.