Clinical and Non-Clinical Options for Speech Therapy
From in-home therapy to teletherapy, here are four options to help your child increase their communication skills.
When a toddler wraps his arms around you and says, “I WUV you!” or charms you with her little lisp, you may be overwhelmed with the adorableness, but if those speech patterns continue, it might be time to call in the speech-language pathologist, also known as a speech therapist. Speech therapy is not only for correcting stuttering, disfluency, or the “l” or “r” sounds that young children often struggle with. Speech therapists also work with children who have autism to increase their communication skills and can help children overcome oral sensory issues that may get in the way of their eating.
In addition, speech therapists can treat other issues, including: trouble understanding or expressing language, voice problems, using verbal and nonverbal communication appropriately in social situations, and difficulties in organizing thought or paying attention as a result of trauma or injury.
If you believe your child may be behind on his or her developmental speech sounds or could use some help in any of these areas, a professional speech-language pathologist can address your concerns. And, when an abnormality or issue is identified early, it could potentially prevent future problems from developing.
However, figuring out where to start can be overwhelming for parents. Clinics, nonprofits, individual therapists and even teletherapy are some of the options locally available. The professionals suggest finding an environment that is best-suited to your child’s specific needs.
Speech Therapy Clinic
A clinic setting has many benefits and can be a good place to have your child’s hearing or speech screened to better see how to proceed.
“I think one of the unique things about working in a clinic is collaborating with your colleagues; it’s a lot easier in a clinic setting,” Mandy Foster, TherapyWorks’ lead speech therapist, said.
TherapyWorks, a full-service therapy clinic in Tulsa, has not only speech therapists but physical and occupational therapists as well. Having a variety of therapy backgrounds all in one place allows for quick consultations and second opinions in a single visit.
The multidisciplinary team can help a child with multiple needs and can even help better identify areas to work on or provide additional screenings for potential problems.
Another benefit of a clinic such as TherapyWorks is that the facility has on-site gyms, a quiet room, various therapy rooms for different ages and a kitchen. Utilizing a variety of environments helps children generalize, or apply, what they’ve learned in therapy to everyday life more quickly since some of the activities or objects used resemble real-life activities and objects.
“Increasing communication can affect confidence, and it can affect social skills,” Foster said. “That’s something we see a lot.”
At TherapyWorks children have the opportunity to work with other children at the center to practice their practical skills and social skills in a controlled setting. The opportunity to interact with their peers motivates them to communicate and is beneficial to a child’s improvement.
Something that Foster encourages parents or guardians to look for when researching clinics or speech therapists is one that specializes in what their child needs most help with. For example, TherapyWorks offers six speech therapists, each with a different focus. One works more with children with autism, one works with feeding disorders and so on. The staff also includes a bilingual speech therapist.
While speech therapists know how to treat a variety of disorders, most often they specialize in one area, so it’s beneficial to find a therapist that can best meet your child’s specific needs.
University Teaching Clinic
Another clinic in the Tulsa area is the Mary K. Chapman Center for Communication Disorders at The University of Tulsa. The clinic doubles as a teaching facility where students offer therapy and assessment under American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) certified supervisors.
“Students are usually highly motivated to do well because they have hearts for serving and hearts for learning, and they have been in courses with the most up-to-date information,” Clinic Coordinator Suzanne Thompson Stanton said.
Some of Mary K. Chapman services include free speech-language and hearing tests for children, speech-language and hearing assessments, speech-language therapy, audiologic rehabilitation and “food school” for food sensory issues. Because it is a university clinic, rates are low.
The Chapman Clinic’s unique accessibility to a variety of demographics is possible because of its status as a teaching facility. The Chapman Foundation gives scholarships to those in need of therapy and a portion of the donated funds is dedicated to reaching out the Hispanic community in Tulsa, so interpreters are also available at no additional charge, Stanton said.
The Mary K. Chapman Center also offers seasonal and year-round programs such as the Language Lab and summer programs such as Articulation Boot Camp. The Language Lab is a play-based service available twice a week for an hour-and-a-half that teaches therapy through play and allows for children to learn language by interacting. Articulation Boot Camp is a more rigorous therapy for sound disorders and meets for an hour a day, four days a week
“Research has shown that more intensive, frequent training can often lead to better outcomes in improving speech disorders or delays,” Stanton said.
These programs use familiar, real-life themes such as farms or airports to help children practice everyday vocabulary, allowing them to more quickly generalize what they learn in therapy sessions.
Some advantages to the clinic are the various playrooms and objects used to engage motor and fine motor skills while children learn and practice those skills.
“We believe that children learn language and speech through play,” Stanton said.
Incorporating motor skills with therapy makes it more enjoyable and memorable, so children generalize what they’ve learned faster.
An aspect of the clinic setting that may be overlooked is the sense of camaraderie among of the parents that frequent the same clinic or who have kids with similar disorders, Stanton said. Meeting other parents who understand what you’re going through can often be reassuring.
Ever heard of it? This type of speech therapy hasn’t quite caught on in the Tulsa area yet, but is widely used in other states, including Illinois and Washington. The object of Teletherapy is to receive speech therapy (and even physical or occupational therapy, depending on the company) through a video chatting program similar to Skype but much more secure.
It may sound strange, even unsafe, but local teletherapist Stacy Puckett assures parents otherwise.
“When you think about traditional speech therapy, you think of sitting on the floor and being really hands on, so I wasn’t sure how that would transfer over through the Internet,” Puckett said.
After working in school and clinical settings as a speech therapist for years, Puckett now works for the Utah-based company eLuma Online Therapy, which employs 80 to 90 speech, occupational and physical therapists from across the country. Puckett works from an office in Jenks and has had clients in an Illinois school, and now works with elementary and middle schoolers at a school in Washington.
After working for several years as a traditional therapist, Puckett transitioned to teletherapy and can’t see herself ever going back.
“I was really shocked because I felt like I truly saw more results working with kids that way than through any other methods I’d used before,” Puckett said. “I don’t know that I’d ever go back to traditional therapy because I just feel like it’s the next new thing.”
Since technology has become so ingrained in everyday life, having therapy on a digital platform is more intuitive for children than most people would think, Puckett said. From an early age, children are surrounded by devices and understand how to use them. Making therapy available online has had enormous benefits both for the children and their families.
The accessibility of the therapy has been one of the biggest benefits, Puckett said. It allows for therapy anywhere and anytime, so a child could even receive therapy on vacation or from home, making it easy for children who may have physical disabilities or for working parents.
Teletherapy provides highly individualized therapy for one or two children at a time, so the intentional attention often leads to trust and attachment formed between therapist and child despite communicating through screens.
“I get really attached to the children, and you wouldn’t think you’d have that kind of connection with them, but, to me, it’s almost more intense because you don’t have the outside distractions, and you can both really focus in,” Puckett said.
She regularly sees children with autism, receptive and expressive language disorders and behavioral disorders for 30-minute sessions, and often has children with the same or similar issues pair up for their therapy. A teacher’s aide or other adult is usually in the same room with the children to keep them on task, but Puckett can alter what the children see on their screen to limit distractions. They often play games that use language or sounds or go through stories and practice reading comprehension together, activities that are all lead and monitored by the therapist.
For parents who are unsure of this newer form of therapy, Puckett always invites parents to observe the end of the child’s session and decide whether they want to continue or not. In her experience, having parents see that they’re not just playing games and instead legitimately learning and practicing new skills is reassuring.
While teletherapy isn’t for every child, it has been a positive option for many. Puckett encourages parents to consider teletherapy if they’re looking for a speech therapist, but also to do their research beforehand.
“I’ve dismissed a lot more kids in the past two years than I ever did in a traditional therapy session,” she said. “I think it’s important for parents to know that they have options, and that this can be done in Tulsa.”
Home Speech Therapy
Speech therapists also commonly offer their services in their clients’ homes or out of their own homes, depending on the client’s preference. These speech therapists offer similar services to clinics limited to each individual’s specializations and travel radius.
Kristen Harris is a speech therapist who moved to Tulsa from Arkansas, struggled to adjust to the Oklahoma clinic settings and instead decided to do speech therapy from clients’ homes. As her own boss, she has the freedom to charge hourly rates and see clients as often as their parents want.
When sessions are in a child’s home, Harris can use toys or everyday tasks to put therapy lessons in an already familiar context. She even uses an activity such as baking so that children can practice certain speech and language skills.
“I try to implement their world into therapy,” Harris said. “I think speech is ideal to do in the home.”
Her main goal in therapy is to treat symptoms and not a diagnosis because she believes that placing emphasis on a label limits what a child can do in her mind. Instead, she focuses on individual issues and examines the possible neurological factors behind them.
Harris also makes an effort to meet her clients where they’re at and observe their behaviors to see what the underlying issue may be instead of jumping to correct certain behaviors, something other speech therapists are taught to do. Ultimately, she wants to see her clients’ communication potential be recognized and to see them confidently progressing in their own unique ways.
“I want to get them thriving, not just surviving,” Harris said. “That’s why I love my job, because everybody I see is a puzzle, and it’s a really fascinating job.”
To learn more about speech developmental milestones, check out the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA) website. However, if you suspect that your child may not be meeting a speech developmental milestone or even if something seems “off,” consult your doctor or a speech therapist for a screening.
“If you have an inkling that something isn’t right and everyone is saying that everything’s fine, go with your gut and do something about it because that early intervention is key,” Harris said.