Does Technology Inhibit Our Engagement With Children?

toddler apps

Photo by jenny downing

I had an interesting online discussion with a colleague as to whether or not technology detracts from or enhances communication. She wrote, “…communication is a relational activity, it’s all about relationships. Should we be investing so much energy on encouraging children to engage maybe more with technology than they do with people? … Do we really need all of the apps in order to engage children with spoken communication or do we need to get back to the real function of speech and language which is to connect people with people?”

As a speech path, I fully agree, to a point. But does technology disengage children from human interaction? Does our enthusiasm for the iPad, and using it in therapy, have the potential for reducing the child’s interpersonal relationship with us and others? I believe the answer is that it depends on how we use technology.

Technology is a tool like any other, but with expanded possibilities. There are apps available that can be used as a starting point for conversation. New app innovation holds the possibility of animating the standard pictures we have been using in therapy for years. I find it hard to understand why that is a negative. As with all materials available to us, it all depends on how we put them to use. Letters replaced human messengers, books replaced human storytellers, radio and television took their place alongside live entertainment. Today’s technology is another medium of interaction on this continuum.

Another colleague offered this anecdote. “At the end of school last year, I grouped two preschoolers who I had been seeing separately and at the end, we used the iPad for some free time. Boy, was I surprised at the amount of spontaneous conversation between the two boys! They shared their favorite app, described how to play it, asked questions about the other boy’s app, and made helpful suggestions. I hadn’t gotten such spontaneous language from the one student for over a year of therapy!!”

(This post originally appeared on Apps for Speech Therapy)


Mirla Raz, CCC-SLP, is a speech pathologist in private practice (Communication Skills Center) and the author of the Help Me Talk Book: How to Teach a Child to Say the “R” Sound in 15 Easy Lessons, How to Teach a Child to Say the “S” Sound in 15 Easy Lessons, and How to Teach a Child to Say the “L” Sound in 15 Easy Lessons (also available in Kindle). Her latest endeavor is her blog Apps for Speech Therapy.


  1. says

    Great Post. I fully agree with you on the “it depends on how you put them to use.” If we allow students to block out everything and disappear into the app, yes, it does inhibit our engagement. Clearly, there are ways to avoid this, and some apps are better than others, particularly those where we can control the pace of the action and prompt engagement.

    Great blog too, Mirla. Thanks.

  2. says

    Thanks, Sean.

    I would like to see more speech apps that utilize the iPads interactivity ability. Such apps might better engage children and make the therapy and learning experience a lot more fun.

  3. says

    Really good post. I appreciate the concerns you raise. The thing with technology, particularly iPad and smart phones, is that young people are growing up with such communication tools. It only makes sense to provide help to young people on platforms which are most familiar to them.

  4. MV says

    Hi Mirla, very interesting post. I am an undergraduate student and was wondering what the benefits of technology to speech pathologists are. What are the cons? Why would they be resistent to using new methodologies vs traditional ones? Is it commonly used in therapy now?

    • says

      Hi MV,

      I can’t say that whether or not technology is commonly used in therapy at this point, but I do feel that it will be. The iPad is the impetus since it will make life easier for our profession. The vast majority of us work in the public schools. For those providing itinerant services, it is far easier to carry an iPad around than a load of paper materials. It’s ease of use when pulling up materials is just a screen touch away. Also, technology is hugely motivating for children. I feel that the animation and interactivity abilities of the iPad will make our therapy more effective.

      At this point the primary con is that there are very few good speech and language apps available. However, this is changing as more speech paths get into the app development business. In one of my upcoming blogs I will review 3 such apps.

      Re: Why would they be resistant to using new methodologies vs traditional ones? Perhaps one reason is a personal discomfort with technology. But I think that will change with a new generation of tech savvy professionals. Also, there are speech paths who feel that technology undermines the human interaction element of therapy. I disagree. I feel it is an option, like any other in our tool bag, that can be used to enhance therapy without negatively affecting our interaction with our clients.