The future of speech therapy is accelerating rapidly. Between the many Baby Boomer speech-language pathologists (SLPs) retiring, fewer new graduates available to fill those vacancies, and the expanding population of those who need speech therapy services, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be an 18% increase in jobs available in the next 7 years.
But aside from that impressive quantitative growth in employment opportunities, what are some of the qualitative changes expected to impact the speech therapy industry in the coming years?
The rapid innovations and transformations of technology have touched practically every area of life – and speech-language pathology is no exception.
Let’s take a peek at some of the most significant technological advancements:
1. Online Speech Therapy
While online speech therapy has rapidly accelerated due to social distancing and the expansion of remote learning during COVID-19, the trend towards teletherapy had already been growing for many years.
Ever since the landmark study conducted by The Mayo Clinic over 20 years ago and its complement by Kent State University 10 years ago demonstrated that online speech therapy is just as effective as traditional, in-person care in helping children reach their communication goals, the acceptance and impact of teletherapy have continued to expand. And this expansion has been even more profound in those communities that are either underserved or understaffed.
Aside from the plethora of benefits for the clients, and school administrators dedicated to providing top-notch therapy for their students, teletherapy’s many benefits for therapists are driving this growth as well. These benefits include:
- Flexible schedule
- No commutes
- Less paperwork
- Better work-life balance
- Ease in expanding client base because travel expenses are not an issue
2. Technological Innovations
1. The iPad Revolution
Nowadays, practically every SLP around has an iPad. But this transition to the iPad goes far beyond helping therapists keep pace with the technology. The wealth of helpful apps that have been designed for the iPad have become instrumental in assisting SLPs to reach their goals. Not only are iPads portable and easy to use, but there are also inexpensive iPad games that can be used as rewards for their clients.
Observing how today’s children navigate an iPad or phone app is pretty mind-blowing. They’re nothing less than digital natives, having grown up in technology-rich environments that have made perfecting these skills practically second nature. As a result of their digital immersion, children learn and process information quite differently than even a decade ago.
When used correctly and judiciously, the iPad together with digital speech therapy tools can transform the therapy session. It has been reported that they can increase children’s attention spans, engagement, willingness to participate, and the productivity of your sessions.
2. Once It Was Games, Now It’s Digital Downloads
Estimates show that well over half of educators have downloaded something from TeachersPayTeachers. What could be more convenient than downloading precisely the material you want at the moment that you need it? As our world becomes increasingly mobile, it’s become vital that materials are no more than a click away. Such convenience and availability are gradually changing the face of the entire profession.
3. Interactive Tools
There’s no shortage of interactive tools. A quick search will bring you to fun language-building games that children can play via video chat, such as word searches or Bingo, against various digital backgrounds that offer visual intrigue and reinforce new lessons. Remote whiteboard features provide options to draw and illustrate narrative stories. And YouTube videos teach vocabulary and articulation through song and dance!
Children can use many of these engaging apps at home to reinforce lessons learned between sessions. For example, the Articulation Station app helps children who struggle to pronounce certain letter sounds, such as /s/ or /z/.
The new app Speech Blubs helps children imitate sounds from “kid experts” who use fun face filters to keep them entertained while learning. And Splingo uses animations and a reward-based system to assist children in learning various speech and language skills, such as pronouns and vocabulary.
3. Virtual Reality
But perhaps the most profound changes coming to speech therapy will be found in the world of Virtual Reality, driven by the accelerating developments in Artificial Intelligence. While there is debate within the speech community regarding its benefits, there seems to be no question that it won’t be long before Virtual Reality is tweaked to take children to places previously unimagined.
No one can predict the many ways in which AI will impact our speech therapy. But suffice to say that AI will reshape speech therapy in at least three critical ways:
- Because AI can help with documentation, speech therapists will become more efficient and consequently be able to spend more time with clients.
- Evaluating clients and communicative outcomes will improve due to the new tools being utilized by SLPs.
- Speech therapists will assume a larger and more integral role in the early identification of speech disorders and speech-related diseases.
The Future is Now
While there is justifiable skepticism regarding any change, we all know technological advancements march on irrespective of our beliefs and feelings at the end of the day. It behooves us to become attuned to the changes that are already in motion so that we can understand them, and prepare ourselves to benefit from them as much as possible.
At the same time, it’s critical to keep in mind that there’s no magic elixir nor quick-fix solution regarding speech and language development. No device, app, nor game can supplant the necessity of human interaction. In other words, while these tools can enhance the therapeutic process, they will never be able to replace it.
There are many reasons for this. The most salient is that children will always require and benefit from human interaction. They need feedback on how they’re progressing, strategies to help them self-improve and correct, motivation to continue practicing, and a dynamic treatment plan that only an experienced speech-language pathologist committed to helping them reach their communication goals can provide.