Virtual Speech Therapy for Apraxia

Is Video-Chat Appropriate for Kids with Apraxia?

Let Me Share My Experience

With the worldwide pandemic and ongoing quarantine restrictions many businesses, including my own, have had to suddenly pivot and provide services online rather than in person.

Virtual Speech Therapy (also called Telehealth or Teletherapy) has actually been offered by our field for about a decade but was mostly used for older kids and adults. I always had an interest in providing online therapy but never got around to setting it up since our in-person services were in such high demand here in San Diego, California.

While the research supports that telehealth can be just as effective of a means of service as in-person sessions, even for toddlers, I wasn’t personally convinced it would be just as effective. Now that I have been providing teletherapy for 3 months and I am happy to report that each client has made positive progress on their goals.

Let me share the experiences of one of my clients, who I will call Johnny.

First, some background on Johnny. 

Johnny lives several hours away from where I live and work but his parents wanted to work with me so badly that they drove every Saturday to San Diego for a two hour speech session. Unfortunately, they had previously had a negative experience with the speech-language pathologist they were assigned by their insurance. They have found my YouTube channel while researching a new therapist and liked my teaching style and contacted me. 

Upon interviewing the parents I learned that Johnny has had several ear infections, tubes, and possible hearing loss. Parents were diligently following up with their Ear Nose and Throat Doctor as well as their Audiologist to make sure Johnny’s ear were healthy and he could hear clearly. This was a bit of a long process and kept us all wondering if his limited speech was due to a hearing loss, a speech delay, or maybe something else like Childhood Apraxia of Speech. 

Johnny was now 3 years old and barely talking, but his receptive language skills and ability to get his ideas across using his body and facial language was very strong. I worried on some basic imitation skills with him during our sessions and began making some progress but it was very slow, slower than expected, which made me wonder, could it be something else? Could it be Apraxia or is it still that he can’t hear the sounds we are making? 

Due to various circumstances, the family was not able to make the trip to San Diego consistently, which was understandable. I encouraged them to try a new therapist through their insurance as well as pursue services though their local school district as regardless of the ultimate diagnosis, Johnny needed therapy daily.

Eventually Johnny’s hearing was deemed normal and he was seen by the school district speech-language pathologist who diagnosed him with Childhood Apraxia of Speech. Mom and I were both saddened by this diagnosis although not surprised. This diagnosis is one that requires many years of intensive speech therapy and so we both new this was just the beginning of a potentially long process.

Then…COVID-19! Bam! The pandemic quarantine, unfortunately prevented the family from being able to work with me in person but they signed up for four 30-minute virtual sessions a week with me.

I was not feeling too confident that online video-chat speech therapy would be effective enough for treating a severe Apraxia case in a now four year old child. 

I’ll admit, it was not easy to start. In the beginning, for some reason 30 minutes online felt like an eternity, which is strange because we used to work together in person for 2 hours straight. Johnny would usually cry when it was time for him to leave my office and go home. He always loved playing with me, but now he had very little interest in “playing” online with me. He even shut the laptop computer right in the middle of our session – twice! This was his way of saying, “Nope! Not feeling it today!”

Although we had a rough start, we all started to adjust to the new structure and all began to enjoy the process. I just needed to find what truly motivated him, which was 1) animals and 2) Peppa Pig! Once I had may materials revolving around those subjects he was very motivated to work and started making excellent progress in correctly imitate sounds and syllable shapes. After a few weeks, Johnny was able to imitate the three word sentence “Me More Peppa!”  That is the first sentence he ever spoke! I wish you all could have seen the look of pride and accomplishment on his face that day.

So if at first it doesn’t work, try, try again! I’ll never give up on my kiddos and I always did like a good challenge.

If you have a child with a speech disorder and are unable to find in-person services, consider giving online therapy a try. If you are in California, please reach out to me and perhaps would could work together!

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