Virtual Speech-Language Pathology Services: The Post-COVID Revolution

Where were you on March 11, 2020?
You know, the day that organizers canceled the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo due to
COVID-19 concerns? I was having lunch with a fellow educator friend when both of our phones received emergency notifications stating as such. Once we processed the disappointment of missing out on this year’s festivities, our conversation shifted to, “What about our students and our jobs? Are we going back to campus on Monday?”

You see, from December 2018 up until recently, I was the head of the Speech Language Pathology Department at Humble Independent School District in northeast Houston. Up until that point, our work with students had always been done in a face to face manner- from diagnostic assessments, to Annual Review and Dismissal (ARD)/IEP Team meetings, to therapy services, and consultation services with colleagues. If we weren’t going to be on campus with
our students; how were we going to support their educational needs?

Fast-forward to Fall 2023 where many school districts across the United States are reporting the
highest levels of ARD/IEP meeting participation by families through virtual attendance options;
where some districts are integrating remote work options to attract and retain staff; and where some students are demonstrating growth in their learning through virtual supports. As of today, a growing body of evidence supports the potential positive impact that virtual speech-language therapy services can have on its participants across the lifespan from early childhood, to school-ages services, adults, and geriatric clients.
Some of the major reported trends are as follows:

Access to SLPs
Like in so many other industries, there is a shortage of licensed SLPs in Texas and across the USA. Virtual services have shown to increase the availability of SLPs in traditionally underserved areas by reducing travel challenges and may actually offer more cost efficient options to its participants. Virtual services help reduce wait lists for services by having SLPs available to provide services beyond typical business hours.

Individualizing Care
Virtual services can flex to different learning styles through synchronous (in real time) and/or asynchronous (pre-recorded resources) sessions. Virtual services allow for seamless integration of potentially high interest and impactful online resources. Furthermore, participants can gain access to peers who share similar interests and needs beyond their immediate geographic location for social connection and community.

Caregiver Coaching
Research consistently supports the vital role that communication partners (a.k.a. caregivers) play in the attainment of speech-language goals. Virtual intervention is typically set in the participant’s natural communication setting where skill practice can be done most authentically and consistently. There is also data to suggest that caregivers and SLPs have more regular opportunities for virtual collaboration towards supporting the participant’s success. SLPs can give real-time feedback and coaching to the communication partners through this format.

Questions to consider regarding whether virtual speech-language services may be a good
option:

What are my loved one’s abilities and needs? Will an online format tap into their areas of strength?

What is the SLP’s recommendation for how services should be accessed?

Does my loved one have reliable access to the necessary technology to access virtual services?

Is a hybrid therapeutic approach potentially available where my loved one can have some interventions provided in-person and some done virtually?

Since the global pandemic, the proliferation of virtual services and supports has widened the door opening for individuals across all facets of daily life. Virtual speech-language pathology interventions are no exception to this phenomena. Potential participants and their families should consider the benefits and requirements of virtual speech-language services compared to face-to-face sessions as a first step towards achieving improvements in communication with the support of a Speech Language Pathologist.

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