The Future of Speech Therapy is in the Palm Pilot of your Hand

“Using apps in treatment is a win-win. The client engages with an exciting device, and the clinician is able to model and elicit the targeted skills more easily.” -Sean Sweeney, SLP

Apps: (plural noun) /ae ps’/ : software applications that have brainwashed society into believing in their necessity for human survival, without which mankind will cease to exist in the form of a rapture (alternative spelling rappture), taking place today. Any minute now.

Reading through my most recent ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) newsletter today, I found that my current speech therapy practice of engaging directly with clients using archaic forms of communication such as conversation and eye contact is obsolete, replaced by a much more effective conversational partner known as the mobile app, which is “the future of the profession and some clinicians are already there” (Jeremy Legaspi, pediatric speech-language pathologist).

According to the article, apps can be used as contextual tools to enhance clients’ engagement in therapy and willingness to practice at home to improve transfer of targeted skills to other environments. “For a majority of my clients, the iPad is the first thing they ask for in treatment,” says Legaspi.

And what can the iPad do that other therapy tools can’t? According to Jessica Gosnell, an SLP at Children’s Hospital Boston, there is a “whiteboard” mobile app on which she writes and lists the therapy session’s activities. The client uses the whiteboard app to check off each listed activity that is completed.

Seen at Portland Antiques Shop, this rare artifact is from 2011. Teachers and students wrote on it before the r-app-ture.

This is fantastic, because there is no such thing as a “whiteboard” app in the real world. There is, however, a real whiteboard, on which low-tech SLPs such as myself can write the session’s activities, and another invention called the eraser, that can be used by clients to erase each listed activity that is completed.

The truth is, I can acknowledge the relevance of mobile apps in certain settings. As the article notes, SLPs who travel from setting to setting lugging a suitcase loaded with therapy tools could benefit from the number of resources (books, articulation therapy cards, board games) that could be incorporated into a single device for quick and easy access.

But there are many potential downfalls as well. The article points out that the true purpose of the therapy session —- which is to enhance communicative success whether it be in the area of articulation of speech sounds, fluency, voice, or social communication —- could become peripheral to to using the mobile apps*. Being expected to adapt treatment to a mobile device brought in by a client is another concern noted in this article. And in a career field intended to improve our use of speech and language for human interaction, I remain wary of replacing the rich communicative opportunities of the speech-language therapy environment with a device that could depersonalize that connection.

–Troi out

*This caution as it relates to using mobile apps is not to be confused with the field of AAC—-augmentative and alternative communication—-which is a vital need for those clients who are nonverbal or produce limited verbal output and require the use of a communication device. For these clients a highly-trained professional matches them with an AAC device, and learning to communicate using this device should be a primary focus of treatment.

One Response

  1. theron Says:

    Really with the technology that is out there now, society should serious think about replacing all teachers with computers. Also, we could probably create an app that could teach people how to do surgery on themselves and thus we could do away with doctors as well. I guarantee a computer could do the job of a dmv worker and would probably be friendlier. Wait a minute. I imagine we could replace every government worker with computers. As a bonus, we could save the tax payers money because they would only have to pay people to service the computers. But with the advances in technology, and apps, we could probably develop apps that can service themselves. Which brings up the question, are humans even necessary anymore?

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