Aug 04 2020

How Speech-Language Therapists Can Prepare for This School Year

A hybrid model can help speech-language therapists provide critical services for students when school is back in session.

Over the past few months, the U.S. school system has gone through a dramatic shift. But the upheaval is far from over. The balance between onsite and online learning will continue to fluctuate over the next couple of years, with the quality of special needs education in particular set to be disproportionately affected.

Failure to adapt in a way that puts student learning needs first could cause irreparable setbacks for children who already face their fair share of challenges. By evaluating how key areas of special needs education have adapted in recent months and why certain approaches could fall short in the long term, we can help schools and clinicians prepare for the coming school year and beyond.

Speech-language therapy is an education service that provides intervention for more than half of U.S. children ages 3-17 with a communication or swallowing disorder each year. And it is one of the critical areas of special needs education grappling with ongoing disruption. After the initial fallout from school closures that happened practically overnight, schools and speech-language therapists (SLPs) now face continued uncertainty.

As schools reopen in the fall, the balance between in-person and remote instruction is likely to change week by week because of factors like the macro health environment or a designated SLP’s health status at a single school. On top of that, schools are having to develop specialized environments onsite to meet health and safety requirements to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — a process that often demands the integration of digital tools to manage effectively.

READ MORE: Learn about the different types of blended learning.

How to Provide Speech-Language Therapy with a Hybrid Approach

SLPs have long depended primarily on in-person teaching to meet the needs of their students, but this is becoming increasingly difficult in the current landscape: A three-day, in-person school schedule can quickly devolve into four days at home, leaving SLPs little time to pivot their therapy plans. As we approach an uncertain fall semester, the best course of action for both schools and SLPs is to prepare to be flexible.

Clinicians have already begun to use online tools in recent months, and it’s clear that the integration of technology will continue to be critical as schools return to session. But what’s really needed to meet the uncertainties of the moment is a hybrid model: a system that can seamlessly and efficiently adapt to the specific demands of onsite and online learning.

Learning from the pain points encountered during the past few months will be key to developing this hybrid approach. The disruption caused by the abrupt shift from onsite to online education left many SLPs unable to meet the needs of their students. Common obstacles included losing access to important materials, issues with documenting services and SLPs having to contact individual students’ families directly to come up with an online solution.

DISCOVER: Find out how Microsoft Teams supports inclusive remote learning. 

The result was missed therapy sessions, improvised teaching materials and inconsistent documentation. Left unaddressed, such issues risk creating an overload of administrative work for SLPs — time better spent delivering therapy — and hindering students’ progress. With these pain points in mind, how can schools and SLPs begin to develop a more efficient, effective and flexible approach for the fall?

  1. Be open-minded. The current environment is out of our control, and we must adapt fast. Studies have shown that online tools are just as effective as in-person sessions; to be prepared for what’s ahead, it’s crucial that schools and SLPs remain receptive to the benefits of technological solutions.
  2. Start adapting now. With therapy continuing for many through the summer, it’s a good idea to start integrating a hybrid approach now, before caseloads increase in the fall. Now is the time to try different solutions and gather feedback from students and SLPs.
  3. Do your research. Online tools via videoconferencing platforms are just one way to adapt to the uncertainties of the moment. It’s important to do thorough research and invest in a flexible solution that will provide the highest standard of therapy, whether onsite or online. The more sophisticated online tools now available allow SLPs not only to deliver therapy remotely but also to accelerate and track student progress while reducing the administrative work for SLPs. In addition to providing a more robust online solution, these tools can help clinicians manage the complexities and health requirements of onsite therapy. For example, digital tools featuring games that use artificial intelligence to correct students’ mistakes and adjust to their strengths and weaknesses are ideal for clinicians managing small group classes with students in separate rooms.
  4. Think long term. Experts anticipate that there will be sudden shifts for both students and educators when schools reopen, with scenarios including a mix of onsite and at-home learning, likely to change week by week. To avoid disruption of services in the long term, select a comprehensive online tool that is optimized for both onsite and online settings. An ideal solution should provide teaching materials, record and document sessions and student progress, and offer self-practice tools to avoid disruption of services.

While the coming months will have their obstacles, there’s also an exciting opportunity on the horizon. The new systems and technologies we discover now could offer better learning outcomes for students even after the pandemic ends.

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