Telepractice/teletherapy has been utilized by SLPs for years. We joke that due to COVID-19, all SLPs have become teletherapists now. This is actually an amazing thing! There are so many benefits to teletherapy. Let's go through the who, what, when, where and why of teletherapy.
Teletherapy provides a direct connection between a SLP and the client, which means it can work for anyone who might need speech therapy. Of course, there will be those few exceptions that this delivery method does not work for, but it is a great option for many clients. Younger children may need an adult to help facilitate activities, but as children get older, they are able to participate independently. An adult should always be nearby, but many children do well on their own. I have worked with clients as young as four years old who are able to actively participate in therapy activities without a parent's help.
ASHA defines telepractice as "the application of telecommunications technology to the delivery of speech language pathology and audiology professional services at a distance by linking clinician to client or clinician to clinician for assessment, intervention, and/or consultation." These services are equal in quality to the services that clients would receive in person. We are still providing personal, interactive therapy, just from a remote location.
Telepractice takes place using a video conferencing platform (such as Zoom) that allows clients and clinicians to connect. Often, these platforms provide the option for us to share screens so that our clients can interact with materials and games just as they would in person. In terms of licensing, teletherapists are able to provide services to clients only in states in which they are licensed. I am licensed in Washington DC and Virginia. My Maryland license should be finalized any day now as well.
This is one of my favorite parts of telepractice. Therapy can take place at any time! In the past, I have experienced so many scheduling conflicts that make it difficult for me to see my clients. Children have after school activities. There has to be enough time for the parent to pick them up from school and get them to the clinic, park the car, etc. There is traffic or a snow day. With telepractice, many of these factors are no longer an issue. It makes finding a convenient time for both the client and clinician a dream!
So why telepractice? As a parent, you may be feeling a little skeptical. I was also skeptical of teletherapy before I tried it. I thought that it couldn't possibly be as good as in-person therapy. I was so wrong! Children LOVE technology. Many are motivated to participate just by the presence of a computer or iPad. Children are excited to share their homes with others. They show off their toys or favorite things, which makes them more excited to participate. Teletherapy is just as effective as in-person therapy!
WHY - Part 2 - COVID-19
There are also a few reasons to continue with teletherapy in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although states are slowly starting to reopen, health care officials still advise staying home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. At this point, in-person therapy would require masks, distance, and limited use of materials. Speech therapy encompasses listening, speaking, and watching. If I'm wearing a mask, my client can see my mouth which is so important when learning a new sound. Masks also reduce sound! Even the slightest reduction in sound can make it that much harder for children to listen. Adequate access to speech and language is so important for development. In this particular situation, I would prefer to see my clients face-to-face without masks or any barriers through teletherapy.