In many ways, online speech therapy is just like in-person therapy. However, during online speech therapy, a child and speech therapist communicate through face-to-face video chat on the computer for live, interactive sessions.
A mountain of research has been conducted to measure the effectiveness of online speech therapy compared to traditional, in-person settings. The results are clear: done properly, teletherapy is an effective delivery method. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has even recognized teletherapy as a valid means of service delivery for speech therapy disorders.
While online speech therapy is effective, convenient, and oftentimes more affordable, many caregivers wonder whether their child will be able to stay engaged during their virtual sessions.
Online speech therapy can be beneficial for children with different ages, communication needs, and learning styles. But like starting any new service, there are some important things caregivers can do to promote their child's success. In this article we discuss the structure of online speech sessions, and general tips and tricks to help little ones stay engaged!
Expect your child to need some adjustment time
No matter if a child is involved in online or in-person speech therapy, for many children this is the first time they're engaging in a structured environment. For learning and language acquisition to take place, a child has to pay attention to the therapist and their instructions.
All pediatric speech therapists do their very best to implement therapy through tasks and activities that are child-led. That means following a child's interests to keep them engaged and motivated. If a child is not attending to any tasks, or is unwilling to sit for the session, a certain amount of structure and direction will be provided.
It's normal for children to push back when they sense that more structure is expected. This adjustment stage happens regardless of where a child is receiving speech therapy. It can take a few sessions to establish a great relationship between a child and their speech therapist, which is normal and expected, and ultimately helps them become more engaged and willing to learn.
Just think about the first few sessions as a “warmup.” The child is learning how to interact with the therapist, and the therapist is working to better understand the child's preferences and learning style so they can tailor their treatment accordingly. Don’t worry if the first few sessions feel a little rocky. Hang in there and trust the speech therapist!
Find a balance of parent and therapist involvement
For very young children, we'd never expect them to sit in front of a computer uninterrupted for 30 minutes. At this age, parents and caregivers play an absolutely vital role. Your speech therapist will provide parent coaching to help you implement the techniques and strategies taught during therapy throughout day-to-day interactions with your child. Home practice is one of the most vital aspects to a child's progress.
When parents attend sessions, they often worry about making sure their child sits and attends perfectly to the speech therapist. Sometimes this means that parents or caregivers constantly correct a child, or give them lots of directions to follow.
If a child is hearing tons of directions from both the speech therapist and the parent at the same time, they may get a little overwhelmed. The best thing that a parent can do during an online speech session is to remain near their child and stay calm. As the session progresses, you and your speech therapist will work together to figure out how much you need to be involved in providing directions.
If the child is paying attention to the screen, one strategy your speech therapist may use is introducing tasks to do with your child within their environment. You can even set the computer or tablet down momentarily, and listen as the therapist provides directions and prompts you along.
This has a major benefit: It helps parents learn exactly what the speech therapist is working on with the child. It's very common for children to respond more to toys and items presented physically in their environment. Another benefit to this hands-on structure of therapy is that it helps parents implement practice at home.
Use favorite toys and activities during online speech therapy
Speech therapists love to use games and toys that a child prefers in everyday play activities. This helps to keep speech therapy more play based and motivating.
Feel free to give your speech therapist a list of things your child enjoys. They'll work to incorporate these within the sessions if appropriate. Here are a few examples of things to include in your list:
- Types of activities your child likes (books, music, matching games, arts/crafts, board games, etc.)
- Storybook or TV characters your child loves
- Examples of what motivates your child (a favorite snack, extra playtime outside, sticker charts, etc.)
Speech therapists have lots of fun and interactive toys and games they'll present to a child on screen. They also use a variety of online activities many children enjoy participating in. That's why it's so important to give your therapist insight into your child's interests ahead of time--it'll help sessions start off on the right foot!
Make sure to keep some of these items nearby as well, just in case your speech therapist asks you to present items to your child by using the parent-coaching model. One trick that speech therapists tell parents is to keep a box of toys that are specifically reserved for speech therapy only. These toys only make an appearance during the speech sessions. This helps make the activities feel new and special, and it keeps the child’s motivation high.
Location matters for online speech therapy
As much as fun toys and activities contribute to a child’s enthusiasm in therapy, the environment is just as important! When getting ready for an online speech session, make sure to find a dedicated space for your child that is calm and quiet.
For young children, using their high chair or any other comfortable chair is a great way to encourage them to sit and attend. When the temptation to get up and run around is gone, a child is much more likely to respond to the tasks presented.
In addition, make sure to turn off any nearby TVs and limit other distractions during the session. This will help keep frustrations during the session to a minimum.
If your child is playing with a highly motivating activity before the speech session, they may have trouble transitioning away from the activity. The speech session may feel discouraging. To prevent this from happening, save highly desired games and toys for the session--don’t provide them to your child before the session and then have to take them away. You will also want to save any special activity time, like a favorite TV show or playing outside, for after the session is complete.
Finally, do your best to have strong internet connection and a reliable computer or tablet. A phone can be used for therapy, but a bigger screen such as on a computer or tablet is much more ideal. Children can see the screen better and may attend to the tasks more easily.