There is NOT an app for that.
Speech-Language Pathologist. It’s a mouthful. Also known as Speech Therapist, SLP, Speech Teacher, Clinician, or CCC/SLP. When you see my name scribbled at the bottom of a report, you’ll see some special letters that follow it. That alphabet soup, M.A., CCC/SLP, indicates that I have a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and my Certificate of Clinical Competence through the American Speech and Hearing Association. I am a certified professional trained to evaluate and treat communication disorders in adults and children. Although technology in our field has come a long way, there is NOT an app, tool, or computer to take my place.
Recently, a newspaper article in the Wall Street Journal focused on how technology is turning speech therapy into something parents can tackle at home. The article specifically called it a “do-it-yourself project for parents.” While the article is one reporters poor interpretation of the field, other companies are using similar marketing strategies. Over the last year I saw graphics and articles that compare the cost of an articulation tool to the cost of an SLP. The article from the WSJ reported SLPs were part of a ‘notoriously sleepy and low-tech field.’ The first line, “Speech therapy for children is becoming a do-it-yourself project for parents” evoked a visceral reaction to jump out of my seat and yell NO!
Unless parents have been personally involved with an SLP they might not know much about our field. They might see our name on the yearly ‘best jobs’ list. They might connect us to stuttering and problem with the /r/ sound. To most, a ‘do it yourself’ version might sound like a great plan. The problem is that NO technology can take the place a certified SLP. Speech Language Pathologists treat a variety of communication disorders. These include articulation (speech sound errors), phonology (sound pattern errors), language (understanding language and using language), swallowing, fluency (stuttering), pragmatics (social skills) and voice disorders (problems with how your voice sounds). There is no possibility that the general public has the expertise and knowledge to diagnose communication disorders. Recommending that parents try it themselves at home is delaying evaluation and treatment from a qualified professional.
Let’s use an analogy of how technology works in a related field:
Outpatient Physical Therapy is a model of service delivery that more people are familiar with than speech therapy. If you’ve done PT before you might have had a similar experience as me. A Physical Therapist works with you for 30 minutes and prescribes exercises/stretches for you to do within the week before you see them again. You might be sent home with those brightly colored exercise bands to work on your shoulders. Did you know you can buy those therapy bands on Amazon? Awesome right? Do-it-yourself physical therapy. Wait… what’s that you say? You can’t imagine anyone thinking she could fix her shoulder muscles by themselves with therapy bands they ordered online? I can’t either. It just makes sense that the PT has the expertise to evaluate your needs and give detailed instructions on the muscles to target. Even if I knew which muscles were weak, I wouldn’t know which exercises were safe for my injury.
It’s perplexing to me why companies and the media are suggesting that speech therapy can now be replaced with do-it-yourself tools and apps purchased online. Rather than helping parents searching for answers, these reports that suggest parents can remediate errors with the download of an app or purchase of a tool. Instead of showing them the importance of finding a professional who can suggest the appropriate interventions and eventually home programming, they are pointing parents in the other direction.
As I sit and write this, I’m feeling torn. I am one of the tens of thousands of SLPs who highly value parent involvement. When parents download apps, use worksheets, or make up their own games to practice the skills we are targeting in speech therapy I do a happy dance. Parent involvement and carryover is a vital part of treating communication disorders. On my blog Speech Room News, I often write about technology and tools I’m using regularly in speech therapy. Technology is a wonderful thing when used appropriately. I use my iPad, speech generating communication devices, bio-feedback, video modeling, and more. Technology is increasing the quality of my services for many students. Technology however is never going to take my place. An app can’t diagnose apraxia. An app can’t diagnose a language disorder. An app can’t determine if a child’s stuttering is developmental or disordered. Placement tools can’t replace a SLP’s articulation intervention.
To each journalist considering writing about ‘do-it-yourself’ therapy for parents, let’s take a look at one receptive language goal. “Samantha will follow one-step directions that include positional and temporal concepts.” There is an app for that! Before I can let my student practice using that app I have to explicitly teacher her the skill. Samantha didn’t learn what the concept ‘before’ or ‘behind’ meant through incidental learning like her peers. She has heard the word ‘behind’ dozens and dozens of times by the time she is 6, but does not understand the concept. Direct instruction with corrective feedback, modeling, and repeated practice will be completed as a part of the intervention. Books, apps, toys, and other items can be used to practice once Samantha is ready to practice the skills for generalization. If Samantha was my client, this would be the time I’d introduce the idea of using an app for practice at home with her parent.
As technology continues to increase within the field, let’s all take the time to spread awareness about speech therapy. The more people know about our job, the more they will make appropriate referrals. The importance of thorough evaluation and interventions can be shared in many ways. Discuss your job with friends and family. Give an in-service in your school. Reach out to local pediatricians. Let’s market ourselves in a way that makes our value obvious. Let’s demonstrate how we can work WITH parents to utilize technology to improve outcomes during speech therapy.
Did you read the same article as me? What was your reaction?
I highly recommend reading the ‘comments’ section of that online article. Elizabeth McCrea, PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA President wrote in with a comment. See if you reaction was similar to hers.