Demand for speech therapists has never been higher, but there is an unfortunate shortage of qualified therapists. Remote, rural, and disadvantaged areas feel the crunch worst of all. Finding a speech therapist willing to travel to these areas, let alone move there for full-time assignment is increasingly rare. Worse, you may not always get the most qualified candidate for such a non-competitive position.
This shortage is objectively a problem, and some speech therapists think they have the solution: teletherapy. By conducting speech therapy sessions remotely over the internet, speech therapy students can get access to highly qualified speech therapists fairly easily. But not everyone is certain that remote speech therapy sessions are effective compared to other options, like travelling speech therapist jobs or temporary speech therapist staffing.
So, while the prospect of remote speech therapy is exciting to some, others advise caution since the method is still untested. Positive outcomes seem to indicate that the two can somehow meet in the middle, with regulated therapy and established best-practices for teletherapy sessions that can be refined over time.
Teletherapy One Solution to an Increasingly Pressing Problem
The National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services reports that 47 percent of speech language pathologists are short-handed in their schools. Around 18 percent of children receiving special education and similar services under IDEA Part B have issues with speech or language impairments, says the U.S. Department of Education.
Such a mismatch can have dramatic consequences not just for affected individuals, but for society at large. Children who grow up without access to needed speech therapy often end up having fewer opportunities and a significantly lowered quality of life.
Teletherapy seeks to alleviate this problem. Students can log onto their computers at an appointed time and see their speech therapist pop up through a video window in front of them. Through a microphone and headphones, both the therapist and the student can see and hear each other. The student has access to both physical aids and digital study materials they can access on the computer.
Through this arrangement, many speech therapists and school districts have found a lot of productivity. One Director of Pupil Services in California noted how teletherapy services helped reduce one of their instructor’s case loads from 85 to 60. That is a significant reduction, and it can help improve the quality of instruction each student gets. Furthermore, teletherapy can open up job opportunities for therapists who do not wish to travel or who only work part time.
Possible Drawbacks Compared to a Permanent Position or a Temp From a Therapist Staffing Agency
While there are plenty of positive outcomes to point to with teletherapy, it is not a perfect solution for everybody. The American Psychological Association (APA) notes how not every therapist may have the skills to effectively conduct their practice over the internet. “Practicing with distance therapies actually raises the bar, because you also need to be competent in the media you’re using,” observes Jeffrey Barnett, a professor of psychology at Loyola.
Additional concerns include the lack of predictability of technology. If technology issues arise, sometimes sessions have to be cancelled and the therapist is unable to bill for that session.
Other times, the children have trouble focusing on the computer screen as they would on an adult instructor. “Sometimes I feel ineffective in getting a kid back on track,” observes one SLP blogger. “If a kid is really squiggly or unmotivated, you can’t really follow them around the house/school if they walk away from the camera.”
On the other hand, students with autism have responded positively to teletherapy, which they can perform in a familiar environment and with less stimulation.
In the end, teletherapy clearly works for some situations and has generated some positive outcomes so far, but it is safe to say that more study is needed before it can be practiced effectively in all situations.
If you are looking for a speech therapist for a temporary or permanent assignment at your institution, you can consider a therapist staffing agency as a possible alternative to starting teletherapy program.