Hi, I’m Mia, a Speech Therapist at My Online Therapist!
I have a special interest in literacy and dyslexia which a lot of people don’t know speech therapists specialize in.
So… What is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy is part of the health and rehabilitation services. Speech therapists specialize in language and communication challenges. It is used to identify, treat and prevent communication disorders.
This means if any child or adult has a problem making sounds for words (speech) or understanding language, that a speech therapist can help. Speech therapists can have special interests in different areas like stuttering, early communication, using technology to communicate or reading problems.
Many people also don’t know that speech therapy can be done online.
To be honest, I was initially skeptical about online therapy or teletherapy.
How will it work? Is it as effective as in-person? Is online speech therapy for me?
If you asked me two years ago if I thought virtual speech therapy would be an option for me, my answer would have been a resounding no. This was for the simple reason that it would force me out of my comfort zone professionally and compel me to deal with the uncertainty that comes with any transition.
Fast forward a year and I can truly say that virtual speech therapy is a viable option for many clients and therapists.
Would I have been able to venture into this avenue of practice on my own? – still a resounding no. The gamechanger was that I have found a community of online therapists to help, support and inspire me to grow on my virtual journey.
It took me a while to realize that the job description of being a speech therapist remains the same, even though the platform is different. As speech therapists, we are responsible for preventing, identifying, assessing and treating communication disorders and part of our role has always been to be able to adapt to many different settings. The caseloads and expertise required can look quite different depending on whether you work in a hospital, rehab facility, school or private practice, and now in tele-practice. However, as speech therapists, we are uniquely trained to be flexible thinkers and creative problem solvers and virtual therapy necessitates that we bring this well-established skillset and apply it to a new platform.
In this next section, I would like to demystify virtual speech therapy and describe some of the benefits and drawbacks of virtual speech therapy that I have experienced so far.
I work mainly with the school-age population and have found that virtual therapy works particularly well for this age-group. I have found that the children on my caseload are so familiar with technology (much more so than me!) that they are frequently able to set up and participate in the sessions independently – this gives them a great confidence boost. This also diminishes the logistical nightmare of transporting kids to and from a practice for parents. I have found that many therapy goals can be embedded in an online game format and my clients (and I!) find this highly motivating and engaging. I especially like to give a child control over the screen during certain interactive tasks and have experienced this responsibility really improves attention to task. The children are usually much more comfortable in their home environments, compared to when I used to see kids in a clinical setting of a private practice. I find that this more relaxed atmosphere works well for kids who are prone to anxiety and emotionally this allows them to be set up for success.
While all of this is incredibly exciting, I have also encountered some drawbacks to using the virtual platform. Not all of the standardized assessment materials are optimized for online use yet and I have had to sharpen my qualitative assessment and clinical observation skills. Occasionally I have had to ask parents to send me videos of their child while performing certain mouth movements as visibility is sometimes limited on the screen.
By far the most debilitating drawback has been the fluctuating internet connection stability. The fact is that we don’t have control over many of the influencing factors, such as the weather and power outages, and sometimes we are forced to try to make the best of a situation by providing home programs or rescheduling sessions around power outage schedules.
In a nutshell, therapists and clients alike are learning to navigate this virtual platform through trial and error. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to be open to change and adaptation, but above all to be kinder to each other as we are all still learning to cope with our new normal.
Author: Mia Zanberg, Speech Therapist. Lives on a farm in Kakamas in the Northern Cape. Loves all animals. Completed 130 hours of online therapy with My Online Therapist.