James, a 42-year-old creative director at a global advertising agency based in New York, was asked to lead a discussion with his team during an online meeting. It was just at the start of COVID 19 shutdowns, and he was hoping that he could minimize the need to speak in front of so many people he worked with. James, who asked for his name to be changed to maintain privacy, didn’t anticipate that his fear of stuttering would extend to meetings online. Yet here it was again, that tension in his throat was back.
“I’d had enough of stuttering. And once I was able to connect with a speech therapist who gave me clear strategies, I finally felt that I could be myself when I talk,” James said in a phone interview. He still checks in with his speech therapist online once a month for maintenance.
“Working in a clinic, might not have been as beneficial to start off,” Michelle Moyal, M.S., CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist, suggested. “Starting to work with James online was the best way to address his fears, avoidance behaviors and the physical tension he felt without the pressures of being face to face.”
“Families were now experiencing the stress of being at home due to the pandemic as well as not having access to licensed speech therapists. It was the perfect time to offer services online,” says Ms. Moyal, clinical director and founder of Therapy Works Together, one of the first clinics to shift to online speech therapy services when the pandemic hit.
Many clients were initially hesitant about speech therapy online. Yet as the pandemic dragged on, and closures remained, people embraced technology in many facets of their lives. There are also a growing number of speech therapists who prefer to treat their clients remotely. “For the adults I treat, it’s convenient. I’ve had clients squeeze a session in at the office before they get home to their family,” says SLP Gail Samuels of San Francisco, adding that “I’m comfortable providing therapy from home, and for my clients here in the city, it eliminates the hassle of driving to sessions. It’s a win-win.”.
With the pandemic persisting and many families and therapy providers unsure of what will unfold, it’s clear that remote treatment for speech therapy is effective and provides a convenience that will continue even after the instability is over.
Research has shown that online speech therapy is not only acceptable, it’s even just as effective as traditional face to face speech therapy services. Cost is also a consideration. While many often assume that medical insurance will cover their stuttering therapy or their child’s language delay, insurance companies are becoming more lean and mean in the coverage provided to their members. Endless paperwork for clinicians makes finding a speech therapist that accepts insurance increasingly difficult. As wait times increase and coverage decreases for traditional therapy, more affordably priced online speech therapy decreases the barriers for families.
There are the obvious benefits of speech therapy online - flexibility, access for families living in remote locations or disabled people, and virtually no wait times - video sessions gives speech therapists the ability to integrate therapy into a client’s everyday life. “For my younger clients, like toddlers or preschoolers, this gives me a chance to work with the parents and teach them how to apply speech therapy at home,” says clinician Maryann Franklin in Oklahoma. “All of a sudden parents understand that they have the skills they need to help their child. It’s an ah-ha moment I love to see!”
“I literally freaked out when my son, who has Autism, stopped getting consistent services at school,” said a 39-year-old mother of two kids under six, based in Illinois. She discovered that she could be coached in a lot of the strategies speech therapists use, “When I found a therapist online who taught me what I could do at home, I relaxed. I knew he wouldn’t start losing skills.”
“I can ‘virtually’ send our expert clinicians to more families,” said Ms. Moyal. She added that “so many people have suffered during the pandemic, but the convenience of teletherapy is a benefit that I hope will remain so that people don’t have to choose between their health and communicating at their best.”