Does Teletherapy Work?
It’s been over a year now since Exceptional Speech Therapy launched teletherapy services – a decision set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic. Teletherapy is a session with a health provider that happens via technology, with video calls being the most common medium.
Prior to launching teletherapy services, our dedicated therapists took advantage of the perks that this advanced technological world has to offer, as they attended live-online seminars, collaborated with a multitude of professionals, and researched endlessly, in order to ensure the most effective, individualized, and exceptional treatment sessions and assessments, via teletherapy.
Despite the preparation, no one really knew what to expect in the long-term. Would the patients’ skills continue to strengthen? Would the therapists be able to provide quality services? Most everyone was hopeful, but only time would give us real insight. So, what were the results?
Does it work?
In short, the answer is YES! In fact, it has worked so much that even though the clinic’s doors have re-opened for in-person therapy, many patients and therapists have continued to opt for teletherapy.
At Exceptional Speech Therapy, our speech and occupational therapists see a diverse caseload via teletherapy, ranging from 1;0-18;0 years of age. We see both typically developing children, as well as children with maintaining factors (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder, Global Developmental Delay, etc.).
What does a typical session look like?
You may be wondering what a session looks like, so let’s walk through it together. Our speech or occupational therapist will provide meeting information to enter a “Zoom” meeting, which is a secure and reliable video communication platform. Through the platform, the therapists interact face-to-face with the patient, just as they do in-person. Think “FaceTime” from your iPhone, but bigger and better — as there are ample ways to make it an interactive experience. The therapist can “share” his/her screen, so that the patient can participate in an array of fun activities: board games, interactive stories/videos, interactive games, worksheets, music… the list goes on! Just as many therapists target goals via naturalistic play in-person, the therapists do the same using technology.
Perks of Teletherapy
Increased carry over
Many times, children learn skills in the therapy room; however, carry-over across all settings (e.g., home, school) takes more time. Luckily, this is not the case with teletherapy, as the children are already learning these skills in their home settings. The children are comfortable, which increases absorption of knowledge and retention of skills.
No more rushing out the door, no more traffic… teletherapy services has the added benefit in that children can receive high quality services in the comfort of their own homes. They can even wear pajamas!
Ample visual + orthographic support
Because everything is delivered via a platform, everything is visual. For many children, especially with language delays, they learn best with visual + orthographic support. They are exposed to letters/words that increase their phonemic awareness, which positively impacts language development.
Teletherapy provides for decreased distractions. Many times, there are less toys/noises to distract the child, as opposed to in-person. Although there can equally be toys/noises in the home settings, the child is used to those toys/noises – whereas in person everything is new, making it harder to maintain joint attention to tasks.
With COVID-19 still in the air, along with just the everyday colds/viruses, teletherapy ensures safety regarding overall health of both patients/patients’ family members.
In-person therapy can feel more rushed when it comes to discussing overall progress and tasks to work on in the home setting, usually because there are other patients waiting. Teletherapy usually provides more flexibility and time to discuss home strategies and collaboration.
What does the research say?
In 2016, a study was conducted to determine the efficacy of teletherapy regarding speech-language pathology for children attending schools and childhood centers in rural Australia. Results indicated that participation in teletherapy services yielded improvements in speech and language skills. According to the study, teletherapy was deemed acceptable.
Another study, conducted in 2017, investigated whether telehealth-delivered speech language therapy could be as effective as in-person speech language therapy. Results revealed that “both telehealth and in-person participants made significant and similar improvements”.
What about children with special needs?
A recent study was conducted revolving around the efficacy of teletherapy for parent-mediated intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), yielding results that demonstrated no significant differences between in-person therapy and teletherapy. Additionally, significant improvements were observed in parents’ fidelity and children’s language skills.
Remote learning has been prevalent not only in delivering therapeutic services, but also for academic circumstances. Interestingly, many teachers have reported that some students have performed significantly better with remote learning compared to in-person learning. Although there could be various reasons for this observation, many predict that virtual learning has reduced anxiety levels, which positively impacts learning. As teletherapy becomes more popular and accepted by insurances throughout the country, more research will also be available to inform parents and patients that it can be just as effective as in-person visits.
What our teletherapists say:
“Teletherapy has given me the opportunity to serve not only the child, but also the parents/caregivers. Using this type of service delivery allows parents to learn how to make the best of the time they have with their children. I can show the child’s progress as they do things like showing me their finished painting, using appropriate eye contact. Those were “little things” for my child’s parents until I (super excitedly) pointed out how vital eye contact and being able to coordinate attention between people and objects (joint attention) is in learning. As a teletherapy provider, I’ve also had the opportunity to get closer to my patients and have my heart melted when they say bye with a kiss and a “te amo Nela” or a picture when they include me and a heart. That never happened when I was doing face to face sessions. It’s been super rewarding!”
-Marianela Medina, Speech Language Pathologist Assistant
“As a pediatric teletherapist and traditional face-to-face therapist, I can tell you they both are beneficial in their own unique way! My favorite part about teletherapy is parent involvement because it provides the best interpersonal team for your child and overall more suited interventions that best fit their needs. In addition, education and instruction can be shared quickly via teletherapy resulting in increased carryover! My second favorite aspect about teletherapy is the flexibility. A child with limited attention/concentration or decreased motivation will have a hard time traveling to a clinic and spending an hour of their time there. Rather having the option of 30 minute 2x a week allows the child to focus and engage in the session.”
– Karina Carmo, Occupational Therapist
“I love teletherapy because of parents’ involvement! I love being able to educate the parents on the spot, create ideas together on how to work on and address difficulties going on in the home, and then try them in the child’s natural environment.”
-Andrea Rodriguez, Occupational Therapist
What our parents say:
“The girls have improved so much! I am so thankful for the availability of the teletherapy service, especially during COVID times”
-Mother of two young girls receiving speech therapy for articulation for ~1.5 years via Teletherapy
“Teletherapy has worked great for us! The screen works as a “buffer” that allows him to communicate freely were face-to-face shyness held him back a bit. Also, engaging in therapist guided games through the screen comes easy to him; it allows him to focus for longer periods of time while working on the skills he needs to develop. We have seen our son improve during the time he has had teletherapy; it is a great tool.”
-Mother of 7 year old boy receiving speech therapy for language/auditory processing skills for ~1.5 years
Can I switch to in-person therapy if teletherapy does not work for me?
Although this blog has discussed all the benefits and perks of teletherapy, it is fully recognized that it does not work for everyone. Some patients significantly benefit from in-person therapy, as everyone has different needs. At Exceptional Speech Therapy, we want to make it as individualized as possible. If you are curious about teletherapy, try it out for a month. If it does not work, feel free to call the office to set up in-person visits (786-717-5649). Our goal is to provide high-quality services that best fit your child’s needs, whether through teletherapy or in-person.
-Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer
AC;, B. N. K. C. L. J. S. (n.d.). Telehealth services in rural and remote Australia: A systematic review of models of care and factors influencing success and Sustainability. Rural and remote health. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27817199/.
Wales, D., Skinner, L., & Hayman, M. (2017, June 29). The efficacy of telehealth-delivered speech and language intervention for Primary School-Age Children: A systematic review. International journal of telerehabilitation. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5546562/.
Y;, H. Y. F. J. H. S. M. C. (n.d.). A pilot study comparing tele-therapy and in-person therapy: Perspectives from parent-mediated intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32377905/.