Speech Therapy via Skype – Can it Work?

Written by Sarah Van Dusen
October 2nd, 2011

I have a student who has been diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). He is twelve years old, handsome, funny, and a joy to teach. He has been in speech therapy for 10 and a half years. When he was in preschool, his parents were told he would never speak. What a shame! Who can say that about a preschooler? Well, his parents refused to accept this, and they advocated for him, worked with him, and remained dedicated to his success. Thanks to his loving parents, he has speech that can be understood by any listener. His sweet mother called me at the beginning of the summer asking for my help. She told me that he has corrected his sound errors, but still doesn't sound - yes, I'm going to use that awful word - "normal". She felt certain he could still improve. She contacted me to discuss my methods and decided she wanted him to work with me.

The problem. They live almost three hours away from me.

During the summer, this lovely family packed up every Friday morning, and trekked all the way to Dallas for a half hour speech session before having lunch and getting back in the car for the long drive home. We identified some of the problems and made good progress, but alas, the school year began, and continuing speech therapy meant pulling him out of school one day a week. It wasn't practical.

The solution. At the parents' request, we decided to try a Skype session to see if I could help him long distance. I'll admit, I was hesitant. I wouldn't be able to do the kind of hands on, interactive therapy to which I was accustomed. It was going to mean stepping outside my comfort zone - way outside.

We have now had two Skype sessions that were successful enough to warrant continuing. We talked about sports, school, and church. I know exactly what he is reading in his English class and learning in Texas History. I know which teachers he likes and which ones seem unfair. I know how he is doing in his extracurricular activities and what he would like to change. I am beginning to know him.

In the therapy room, if kids don't want to talk about themselves, there are other options. We have games and activities to get them out of that dreaded "conversational speech". While I feel like I know my students pretty well, there are few kids harder to get to talk about their own lives than teenage boys. When there is no other option, it's amazing what they'll tell you. I love learning about this young man, how his mind works, and what is important to him. It will make me a better therapist for teenage boys.

I am certain that there are ways to play games together on a shared computer screen. I am not that technologically savvy yet. I'm not sure if this therapy would be very successful with a younger child or someone still working on sound errors (as they may need touch cues and the picture is not always crisp enough to identify the errors), but I'm eager to explore it. So many people tell me, "I don't have a therapist in my town who specializes in apraxia." It is encouraging to think that maybe they don't need one - that I may be able to help some of those families from afar. I look forward to becoming more creative as I explore Skype therapy, but for now, I am enjoying really getting to know an amazing, twelve year old boy who happens to have apraxia.

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