Apps - the future for speech and language therapy?

One of the biggest challenges for speech and language therapists is keeping children motivated and engaged with their learning activities during therapy. Traditional table-top activities involving pictures, cards and games keep children interested for a limited time but we are always seeking more creative resources.

Mobile phone with apps

I recently introduced iPhone apps to my therapy sessions for some of the listening activities.  The children responded so well to apps as a therapy medium that I decided to invest in an iPad, which has the advantage of a bigger screen.

It is worth noting here that therapy apps are suitable for children who can learn from computer-based activities; in my experience they are best suited for children over 3 years, with no upper age limit.

Higher level of engagement

Hamaguchi App Fun With Directions

Interestingly children are able to focus on the app activities for longer than on the traditional table-top games. I know children can play videogames for hours at a time and this seems to activate a different part of the brain to the ‘attention to homework’ pathways; I wonder if the use of computer-based language activities taps into the additional focus needed to follow an activity for 15-45 minutes?  One child I see would often try every distraction possible to avoid having to focus on listening skills tasks, because this is an area of difficulty for her. I introduced the same activities in an app and she focused for 30 minutes. She asks to do the activity now and wants to keep going even when we run out of time.

Specific Speech and Language Apps

Articulation Pro App

I have ‘generic’ apps to target speech sound and phonological development, grammar, listening skills, vocabulary, semantic knowledge and sequencing, and this list expands every week as more apps are developed and released. There are also companies who design specific apps especially for speech and language therapy such as Smarty Ears and Doonan Speech Therapy.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy Bulletin reviewed the app ‘Splingo’s Language Universe’ alongside the usual academic books and paper-based resources and was given a high 4-star rating for developing listening skills.  At Children’s Therapies we also like ‘Fun with Directions’ by Hamaguchi Apps and ‘Tilly’s Petting Farm’ for listening and language skills.

Using traditional methods, SLTs and parents spend hours printing, cutting and sticking paper-based pictures to aid with learning target sounds and words.  Now there are speech-sound apps with target sounds and words at all levels of difficulty, and large, bright, colourful and interactive images.

Speech Therapist Supervision

Splingo App

As with traditional table-top activities, it is important that a speech and language therapist is with the child when they use therapy apps. The right target needs to be selected from each app and more importantly the therapist is needed to facilitate the child’s success and learning. The same facilitation techniques are used and cues introduced and withdrawn as the child develops. The child needs to hear and see the therapist talking so that they learn language and speech sounds through interaction.  Apps are great for providing interesting stimulus targets for this learning, but do not take the place of a therapist.  Activities also need to be adjusted according to the child’s level, a skill that cannot be done by the app itself.

Super Dooper App for learning personal pronouns

Apps for therapy homework

Getting kids to do their therapy homework is a battle for parents and therapists alike. Recommending apps to download is easy and economical if the family has access to an iPhone or iPad.  We can advise parents on which targets to focus on and how to help the child achieve and learn during the activities. The children enjoy the games and I find they are engaging more because it doesn’t look line traditional homework. Hopefully we can develop a successful homework programme for each child using apps in the future.

Lizz Summers

Voice & Presentation Skills Coach