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Sneak peek: With the pandemic during our lives upside down, online speech therapy for kids has become more popular and necessary. But does it work?
I’ve had many friends in recent months asking about the effectiveness of online speech therapy for kids. This is outside my realm of expertise so I asked a licensed speech therapist to look into the research based on her training. Here is her guest post.
Nearly 8% of children in the United States have a communication disorder, with the majority of them experiencing problems associated with their speaking and language abilities. The specific difficulties children face can vary widely, from problems with stuttering, speech delays, the pronunciation of sounds and letters, literacy and reading readiness, language comprehension, social skills, voice disorders, and more.
While speech and language therapy used to be relegated to a physical location – your child met with a qualified speech-language pathologist in a school, private clinic, or hospital setting – the world has changed. Increasingly, more families are choosing to receive these vital services online, connecting with their speech therapist over video chat with the simple click of a button. While online speech therapy was already growing rapidly prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has made teletherapy explode in popularity.
While it may seem obvious, the only real difference between online speech therapy versus more traditional therapy is how it’s delivered. You and your child still work with a licensed speech therapist to evaluate and diagnose their speech and language needs, and your speech therapist still develops and applies an individualized treatment plan designed to help your children reach their communication goals. While there are some issues that do require a more intensive, hands-on approach to therapy, the majority of communication challenges can be effectively delivered online.
So why are families increasingly turning to online speech therapy? For one, it’s often way more affordable (after all, online practices aren’t paying the high prices of rent, overhead, and administrative costs that generally gets passed down to their clients). This makes it way easier for families to afford high-quality speech therapy if either they’ve been denied insurance coverage, receive inadequate coverage, or can’t afford the exorbitant out-of-pocket costs of many traditional providers.
Second, the convenience benefits are unmatched. We’re all living busy lives, and finding time to drive our kiddos to a clinic and waste time in the waiting room just isn’t feasible (especially since many offices are open standard 9-5 business hours when most parents are at work). With online speech therapy for kids, you bypass all this wasted time, immediately connecting with your therapist from the comfort of your home and at a time that is most convenient, whether that’s in the mornings, evenings, or even on the weekends.
However, even with all the advantages, it all comes back to outcomes. Do children receive the same level of care and attention by receiving services online? Will they make the same level of progress? Is there research to support the effectiveness of online therapy?
As a speech-language pathologist who’s worked in a variety of settings, from pediatric clinics, schools, and online as a teletherapist, I get this question a lot. So let’s dive into some of the most prominent research that compares online speech therapy to more traditional face-to-face therapy delivered in person.
Research on Online Speech Therapy
While online speech therapy has the promise of making services more affordable and convenient, as well as expanding access to those living in rural areas, ultimately it should be judged based on the effectiveness of this delivery method. Fortunately, there has been extensive research performed that studied this very question.
One of the most important studies took place by researchers at Kent State University. During this study, they compared two sets of school-age children. The first group received online speech therapy for four months, and then afterwards received conventional therapy for four months. The second group did the opposite; they received conventional therapy for four months, and then online speech therapy for four months.
The researchers closely monitored each set of students. They used one of the most popular standardized articulation tests called GFTA-2 scores (Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation) to see how each group progressed at the end of the trial.
According to the study, “Student progress reports indicated that the children made similar progress during the study whichever treatment method was used.”
While there was no significant difference between the test scores, the study noted that in terms of satisfaction “Students and parents overwhelmingly supported the telemedicine service delivery model.”
Another large study was conducted by the Ohio Department of Public Health. Many school districts across the nation are facing a shortage of qualified speech therapists, so Ohio set out to see whether students made similar levels of progress receiving services via teleconferences compared “to a more traditional side-by-side service delivery model.”
The study methodology was similar to Kent State University, except in this case they compared two different elementary school buildings in a rural Ohio district. One building was staffed by online speech therapists, the other was staffed by in-person speech therapists. Again, student progress was measured using GFTA-2 scores both before and after students received intervention so results could be accurately compared.
Similarly, the Ohio Department of Public Health concluded that “students in the telehealth group made significant improvement in speech sound production as measured by change in scores on the GFTA-2. This result is similar to the improvement noted in the traditional side-by-side group.”
These studies, as well as a strong body of evidence from additional research, ultimately contributed to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) supporting online speech therapy as an effective delivery model in 2005. ASHA is the credentialing association for speech therapists, and is considered by many to be a preeminent and authoritative voice when it comes to speech therapy. You can learn more about ASHA here.
Every person is different and, like all types of treatments and interventions, there’s never a one-size fits all solution for everyone. In other words, what’s right for your family may not be right for others.
However, the research is clear – online speech therapy for kids is as effective as in-person therapy at helping children improve their speech and language abilities. Those looking for more convenient and affordable alternatives to traditional speech therapy may want to explore it further and see if it’s a good fit for their family.
About the author, Leanne Sherred, M.S. CCC-SLP:
Leanne calls Austin, Texas home but studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained her Master’s in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has worked in pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Leanne is currently the President and Founder of Expressable, an online speech therapy company that envisions a modern and affordable way for anyone who needs speech therapy to access these vital services. You can check out her blog here.