Lockdowns and technology have made online speech therapy the new normal for many — and that’s a good thing.
Speech disorders affect millions — about 8 percent of children experience some form of speech difficulty, and 18 million adults reported voice problems in the last year. For many of these people, help has come from a cutting-edge source: online speech therapy.
“Speech therapists like to say that they work on everything from the neck up,” says Michelle Lachman, M.S., CCC-SLP, clinical director and founder of Better Speech, a leading online speech therapy provider. “It can help people with difficulties understanding language and communication as well as those losing cognitive abilities, experiencing difficulty swallowing, or feeding issues.”
Online speech therapy like the services offered by Better Speech is just as effective as in-person therapy. “Online therapy can be more beneficial,” notes Sheri Stein-Blum, Ph.D., M.S., CCC-SLP, a multi-state licensed and ASHA-certified speech language pathologist (SLP), “because parents and caregivers are actively involved and not out in a waiting room. This way, they learn the strategies and techniques and how to implement them for their loved one to progress faster.”
Online speech therapy is also accessible to those who might otherwise be unable to find providers due to high caseloads or other factors, like distance. Online therapy solutions are typically more cost-effective as well.
Online speech therapy begins with identifying the specific communication difficulties a client is dealing with and their individual goals. A licensed SLP creates a structured plan that breaks the issue into smaller component parts. The SLP then works with the client to build skills that can be used every day.
The specific skills taught by services like Better Speech vary depending on the client. “For example, an SLP would work with a child with a stutter on strategies to decrease moments where they might block on sounds but, depending on the child’s age, she might teach that through play,” notes Lachman. “An adult with a stutter would practice their strategies very directly, with no games needed. Another example is a child with a language delay and an adult after a stroke who lost the ability to speak. Both clients might not know how to name things, so an SLP would look at each client’s life to determine which are the most functional target words to work on. For a child that might be ‛mama,’ ‛juice,’ or ‛doggie.’ For an adult that might be ‛phone,’ ‛help,’ or ‛tired.’”
The new normal
For Better Speech, online therapy has been the norm since its inception. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge of interest in the services they offer children due to concerns about social isolation and its negative impact on children.
Isolation often means children don’t have exposure to typical speech, and so can’t learn in a developmentally appropriate way because they lack appropriate models for developing communication skills. This can lead to further issues, such as speech delay, wherein children don’t develop the language skills at appropriate ages. “Children learn best through positive modeling,” says Stein-Blum. “Missing this exposure hinders the children from hearing, seeing, and developing what are considered typical speech and language skills from the models of others.”
Lachman doesn’t see speech therapy changing much in the future — even after the pandemic is over. What may change is people’s perceptions of the benefits that doing this therapy online offers. “In today’s world, it is important to meet the individual’s needs,” notes Stein-Blum. “Speech therapy that is affordable and easily accessible to individuals does just that.”
Lachman couldn’t agree more. “It saves people time and money and allows them to access therapists who are experts in their needs. Families now have an excellent choice with speech therapy online.”