online speech therapy

What does an online speech therapy session look like?

This article is part of our collection of resources for online speech therapy. If you are a family or provider wanting to know more about our online speech therapy services see our frequently asked questions. If you are an allied health professional see our free online therapy training course for more resources.

Ed Johnson, Clinical Innovation Advisor

Before I see a new client, it’s always important to begin to understand how this person might communicate, who they might communicate with, and the kinds of things which might help them to communicate most effectively. Of course a lot of this will also happen when I meet the family and learn about them during our consultations, but having ideas and communication strategies ready to trial and discuss with the family is key.

In online speech therapy, preparation is incredibly important. If we’re meeting via video, we can’t move around the classroom, the house, the backyard – wherever you would be usually during a session. It means that I need to know what we’ll be doing, and ensure that we have meaningful activities, or have new communication strategies ready to try with families. If we don’t have time to prepare for the session adequately, then we don’t tend to see the same progress during therapy.

Online speech therapy can be very different from doing speech therapy in person. One of the key differences is probably the coaching approach that I take with my clients, rather than solely focusing on more traditional 1:1 therapy. Coaching someone (a parent, a teacher, a support worker) builds more independence so that the client can practice with more support and independence between consultations. Coaching also means that we’re not trying to get young kids to pay attention to therapy on a screen for long periods, which often isn’t very successful. For example, I might have a video call with a parent and teach them how to train the child to make a new speech sound clearly, then I can observe the parent via video, practicing with their child in the home.

A coaching approach work for both kids and adults, but the amount of coaching vs more traditional 1:1 therapy practice we do will depend on who the client is, and who their supporter is. Because some adults will be more independent than some kids, I do tend to do a little more 1:1 therapy with adults where appropriate, but the same principles of coaching still hold true – coaching builds capacity in people who will communicate together on an everyday basis, and the science says that doing therapy in your everyday environment with everyday communication partners gets the best results, even though it might feel different from doing traditional “therapy” with a speech pathologist leading the conversation. When we take a coaching approach, especially with kids, it’s most important that the supporter (parent, teacher etc.) is there to learn how to do the therapy with the child. The child might not even attend for the whole session, but the person being coached needs to be confident that they can practice independently in-between sessions.

After the online speech therapy session, I need to record what happened by writing progress notes, and often I’ll need to spend time finding or writing up information or designing therapy materials to send to the family to support their practice and therapy. Tracking progress and gathering information through talking with people in the child’s life is also important. This might include meeting with teachers/support workers etc. or exchanging emails and phone calls to ensure we’re taking the right approach.

In between sessions is where the real progress happens. A therapy session can be a bit artificial sometimes, and communication is something we do in normal everyday environments like the home, preschool, the local park, a friend’s place etc. so that’s why we teach the necessary skills in a therapy session, and then help families plan how they will practice and implement communication strategies in-between sessions.

Communication is a behaviour. And behaviour change takes time and effort. If you think about learning a musical instrument, there’s a lot of practice which goes into being able to play different tunes, and it can take months and years before you’ve truly mastered it. It’s the same with communication and speech therapy. We measure improvement through different goal measurement scales, and sometimes through doing tests.

The most important thing to remember is that if you or your child is truly motivated by the goal that they’re working towards, then consistent effort and hard work will allow you to make improvements over time. And at Umbo, we always make sure that we’re working on goals which are meaningful and motivating to our clients, which is why we so often see our clients achieving the results which matter to them.