Embracing The Potential Benefits Of Using New Technologies In Children’s Speech And Language Therapy

(This post originally appeared on PediaStaff.com)

Communication is so much more than speech, now more than ever, and the gap between the technological literacy of parents and the Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) assisting children with communication disorders has never been greater – and it is accelerating at a dizzying pace. Speech language pathologists are communication disorder specialists, not computer experts. Many SLPs are from a different, older generation, or just coming out of a newly digitally-connected generation. The communication disorder and sciences profession is rapidly changing at such a fast pace that we must adapt to new tools that were never really intended for speech language pathologists. We must find modern means to keep children’s attention and motivate them to be good communicators.

Doll at computer keyboard

Photo by Kodomut

Since facial expressions and simple gestures, humans have attempted to figure out all kinds of messages one person is trying to get across to another person, or, in a sense, what a sender is trying to convey across to a receiver. The Sender (A) has a message of information (X) for the Receiver (B). The question now is, what is the most effective, efficient, understandable way to get that informational message across from person A to person B and then back to A (and so on)? That is every pediatric SLP’s dilemma to figure out in order to provide the best possible therapy. Part of that dilemma is finding and keeping up with the exponentially changing, newest additions to the communication disorder ‘tool bag’.

All new technology is a tool; one tool of many to aid in the communication between a parent and a child. They are not gadgets to replace interaction or placeholders in important social connections between two emotional human beings. New technology is just one tool to help bring people together and aid in understanding basic, functional needs and wants for quality daily living. A new technology can motivate and facilitate a connection and exchange of ideas or emotions with another person. More tools include animals, blankets, crayons, puppets, games, music, bubbles and puzzles. Therapy tools are meant to motivate and open up opportunities for speech and language development in children. If an iPad helps a child share a smile with their parent, a shared moment of attention, attachment and engagement – that is a good thing. The tech device is just a therapy tool of gaining a child’s attention. It is only with joint attention that more opportunities for interaction can occur.

Finding that attention-grabber takes work, work on the parent’s end and work on the therapist’s end of intervention. We must engage with children and their ‘tech toys’ in order to stay connected to them to some degree. That does not mean that an app or a gadget is a replacement for interacting with a child. Interpersonal interaction will never be replaced – humans are social beings; we need each other to survive and blossom. The tool means nothing and is rather useless without the person using it to facilitate human bonding. We must find what keeps a child’s attention to maintain the level of attention required for communication opportunities. We have evolved from early interaction and attachment, to pragmatics, to gestures, to play, to language comprehension, to language expression – each one an important step in communication and engagement with one another. Each step is a huge communication milestone and it all starts with attachment, attention and interaction. We must get on the floor, be face-to-face and give our full attention to children on their level in order to begin to foster positive shared experiences.

SLPs need to learn how to use new tools and help teach parents, teachers and children how to share these modern communication opportunities. We must learn how to effectively and efficiently embrace children’s new digital language knowledge. We all use Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices every day. People with or without communication disorders, whether we call them AAC or not: cell phones, cameras, daily planners and computers – we are all users of AAC devices. We should not be overwhelmed by new technologies it is just that we have to take the time to learn more about them. It is like learning a new language – and if children are trying so hard to communicate – why can’t we the caregivers and therapists put in effort to understand what is available to children today? Technology is part of our new job requirement. We as SLPs have to stay one step ahead to give these children the best opportunities for communication possibilities. Our new challenge as speech language pathologists and parents is to keep up with the new ways children are learning to communicate.

It is our job as SLPs to understand and to integrate that digital language into therapy to aid children by taking technology from other fields never intended for SLPs. If children are going to engage in this type of online socialization, help them (and us) learn how to navigate this new digital world together. We cannot be perfect therapists, perfect parents, grandparents, or even perfect aunties or siblings, but we can get on the level of a child and really want to find ways to connect with them. Children want to share experiences with us strange and intriguing adults, but they need us to understand and follow their lead sometimes. Children need us to understand their world. Adults, yes, this means homework and taking the extra time to learn about areas in science and technology that may be unfamiliar to us. We must be active participants in order to connect and receive the full, active attention of the children of today.

Connection between people is the most important part of being human. Communication is always evolving. Just like our language dictionaries that require constant updates, speech language pathologists have to keep our tool bags updated and current. We have to keep up with the children of 2010, but keep therapy grounded in human connection to focus on the basics of daily living, wants and needs facilitated by real people. All technologies are just tools of getting a message, information or code (X) from person, Sender (A) to person, Receiver (B) and vice versa. New technology can seem complicated but all these methods have only one purpose- they are methods of connecting people to other people. Speech language pathologists must see all technological tools as just part of the SLP tool bag to effectively use these current and those ancient technologies in therapy. It is no longer necessarily augmentative, alternative communication, but rather, typical digital communication that we must adapt to in order to help children. That does not mean we cannot communicate with children if we do not understand this digital language. Basic, face-to-face communication will always be based on body language and gestures of nonverbal, behavioral communication which speech language pathologists are educated to understand, translate, decode and decipher as a model to the caregiver. SLPs are conduits to pass on skills to others – we are decoders and resources to children. We are resources to parents who desire to achieve attention then engagement with their child; but just need some guidance and support to get there.

SLPs will have to adapt at a faster rate to the exponential increase in therapy tools available for our tool bags and what speaks to children. What keeps their attention? There are many resources available to all of us to be better educated in an increasingly fast paced, digital world. Let us keep up with the children of today and share what we learn to stay as connected to the people we love as humanly possible. So, how do we all stay informed about the exponentially changing, newest additions in communication facilitating technology tools? As a start, we can begin by learning and sharing information from the resources right in front of us. The Internet is full of wonderful educational and therapeutic tools including information on apps and website links for children with communication disorders. Let us therapists and parents listen to children, and to what they can teach us. All anyone needs is a place to start. The following list of highly recommended links is one place to start in helping adults understand children’s digital language of 2010.

Highly recommended links to learn more about children’s digital communication:

Megan (Panatier) Bratti, MS, CCC-SLP, lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband.  She graduated from California State University Northridge with her Master’s degree in Communicative Disorders and Sciences, Speech Language Pathology in 2006.  Megan explores technology and its potential in the communication disorder and sciences field with, Avocado Technologies, co-founded with her husband, Bruno Bratti, an Integrated Circuit Engineer.  Avocado Technologies is a forum on a Facebook page and on Twitter @avocadotech to engage others with the latest stories and news about communicative disorders, language, speech therapy, education, science, linguistics, literacy and technology found on the web.