Do Apps Interfere With Speech Therapy?

By Pam Marshalla

Q: I want to get your feedback on my experience with speech apps. I am a seasoned professional and I work the old fashioned way –– with toys, games, books, drawing, coloring, etc.. But I have grad student interns who work with me and I always have them show me what they do in therapy with their iPads. At first I was excited (and envious), but then I noticed the kids were engaged with and pressing the screens, but they were not doing much verbal responding, initiating, or imitating. In short, there was not much speech and language work going on. I have noticed that the kids get frustrated when I have suggested that only the therapist handle the iPad. I think this because the kids are used to handling the parent’s smartphones and iPads by themselves. What is your response to this? I do not want to seem out-of-step, but I also know what good therapy should look like. This doesn’t seem to be it.

I have the same concerns you have expressed.  There can be a lot of silence associated with the new technologies and this can interfere with the goals and purposes of SL therapy.  This is an evolving process and our interaction with these things will change over time.  The solutions I see currently are the following––

  • Use apps that encourage vocal and verbal output.  There are apps with characters that become animated when the child speaks to it, and there are apps that have characters that repeat back what the child says.  Use these to encourage output.
  • Use an app purely as a reward system like you might any other game.  Give him 1 minute on the app activity as a reward for his speech work.  This is no different from giving him five shots of a basketball into a hoop as a reward for his participation in the speech activity.
  • Don’t assume (as some have) that the apps will be the be-all and end-all of speech and language therapy.  Use apps like you would any other book, deck of speech cards, or pencil-and-paper activity.  Bring it in and out of therapy as the mood dictates.
  • Always remember that our goal is better processing and output.  If the app is interfering with either of these, get rid of it for the time being.  Introduce it another time to see if the client can handle it while maintaining the level of output you desire from him.

2 thoughts on “Do Apps Interfere With Speech Therapy?”

  1. The SLP must absolutely be in control of the iPad. The kids will not like it at first but will adjust. The only way to get the verbalizations you are targeting is to move the iPad out of reach or prevent the child from tapping it until he/she produces the target sound/word/phrase/sentence.

  2. Something to keep in mind is that many tools have options, including staying on the screen vs. moving on to the next screen. I like to turn off the automatic next page with my autistic students, which gives you many many opportunities to have them request what they want (i.e. “more” or “more pictures”, etc.). It’s not about having the children simply “play” with the app. We have to direct them, including withholding it gently, while encouraging the language productions we are looking for.

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