Social Mediating: Using Telepractice for Clients With Autism

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I think most of us agree that technology changes our social interactions. The daily flurry of “tweets,” “likes” and “snaps” can make us feel more engaged with our world than ever. At the same time, we probably feel isolated sitting next to a person who has their face buried in a smartphone.

So what does a highly technological exchange like telepractice mean for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who typically require social interaction guidance and have restricted behaviors?

The core characteristics of ASD include “deficits in social communication and social interaction and the presence of restricted, repetitive behaviors.” As a result, people with ASD struggle with a variety of behaviors like joint attention, verbal and nonverbal communication, restricted interests and routines, and high sensitivity to sensory input. That’s a wide range of things to cover in treatment.

In addition, speech-language pathologists use many different treatment methods with these clients. The National Professional Development Center identified 27 evidence-based interventions for ASD. Some of these approaches require physical assistance. Others focus on a client’s environment. Treatment might also target subtle skills such as interpreting a partner’s eye gaze and tone of voice.

The remote nature of telepractice versus the “hands-on” nature of some tools means that SLPs must evaluate each client’s needs, treatments already in use, and ways to modify treatments for telepractice, and look at options better suited for telepractice. Be aware and ready for potential obstacles—how to address eye contact when you’re using a webcam, for instance, or if the equipment accurately conveys subtle changes in body language and tone of voice—ahead of time.

However, there are also advantages.  Telepractice interaction may be less overwhelming to a client with ASD, for example, or using technology may hold his interest more so than an in-person session.


April is Autism Awareness Month and our entire April issue focuses on related issues.


Obviously, autism and its treatments require flexibility. Fortunately, telepractice offers just that. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh outlined various technologies and clinical applications for telerehabilitation. These include more-direct “teletherapy,” to less-direct “teleconsultation,” “telecoaching,” and “teleplay.”

You can use some techniques—like social narratives, technology-aided instruction and video modeling—through telepractice without many extra steps. Interventions including peer-mediated instruction, parent-implemented intervention and pivotal response training already require indirect approaches, so modifying them for telelpractice won’t take much more effort than applying them for a specific client in face-to-face sessions.

Emerging research in telepractice treatment for ASD clients already shows success in both direct and indirect interactions. One case study gives positive results for two clients with ASD. One subject received services through “active consult,” in which a student clinician was coached  and monitored by a remote supervising clinician using Bluetooth technology. The other client received telepractice services and responded more favorably to those than he did to onsite intervention.

Another study compared traditional onsite intervention to a hybrid model of direct onsite and indirect telecoaching services. They found that gains made through traditional therapy could be maintained as well or better in a model that also incorporated telepractice.

We still have a lot to learn about how to use telepractice to serve clients with ASD. However, developing evidence reinforces something we know from other settings: We are most successful when we analyze and individualize our services to fit a specific client.

 

Nate Cornish, MS, CCC-SLP, is a bilingual (English/Spanish) clinician and clinical director for VocoVision and Bilingual Therapies.  He is the professional development manager for ASHA Special Interest Group 18, Telepractice; a member of ASHA’s Multicultural Issues Board; and a past president and vice president of ASHA’s Hispanic Caucus. Cornish provides clinical support to monolingual and bilingual telepractitioners around the country. He also organizes and presents at various continuing education events, including an annual symposium on bilingualism.  

nate.cornish@vocovision.com.

Maximize Treatment Minutes by Assigning Homework

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A recently published article in Frontiers of Neuroscience supports what we as clinicians know: The more time clients spend on meaningful treatment tasks, the better their outcomes.

Yet there are only so many hours in the work day, so many sessions that insurance covers and only so many minutes of treatment we can give. So how do we get around these limitations? Give your clients homework.

The article mentioned above states that patients who do exercises at home in addition to their weekly sessions improve significantly more than patients who only attend sessions. But how do we find time to create, assign and track homework in the midst of packed schedules, IEP meetings and productivity expectations?

A go-to for SLPs are worksheets and activities like those found in the Workbook of Activities for Language or Cognition and Handbook of Exercises for Language Processing series. Many SLPs also develop their own activities or assignments that they write or print for clients. These paper-based exercises are free and individualized, plus they cover any range of skills from visuospatial reasoning to word-finding.

In addition, the increasing availability of technology offers several online-based options. The app featured in the study referenced above (Constant Therapy, free for clinicians) allows SLPs to assign a variety of language or cognitive homework tasks for clients to do throughout the week on their iPads, Androids or Kindles. Plus, clinicians and patients see all of the progress tracked by the app.

There are also several other apps that help patients work on specific skills. For instance, growing numbers of interactive, pediatric-oriented games allow parents to play with their children to practice treatment skills. (I like the Bag Game from all4mychild, for example.) There are also apps aimed specifically at adults, such as those from Lingraphica, Tactus, and Virtual Speech’s new, adult-oriented series of apps (like Verbal Reasoning). There are even apps that are built into many tablets and smartphones—calendars and alarm systems—that we can use with our clients to practice executive function skills independently and functionally.

The practice of assigning homework allows the clinician to more effectively manage our time and also has a great advantage of engaging patients in their own treatment programs. Today’s technology also allows clinicians to monitor clients’ compliance while empowering them to take responsibility for their improvement.

In today’s fast-paced, schedule-packed world, we must maximize our time and that of our patients! Try out a new homework option today—then share it with a clinician friend to help them save some time, too.

 

Jordyn Sims, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist working in the Boston area. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; and 15, Gerontology.  Sims has experience with adults and pediatrics and is a clinical consultant for Constant Therapy. jordyn.sims@gmail.com 

How Do You Know When it’s a Language Delay Versus a Disorder?

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Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from a blog post that originally appeared on Special Education Guide. 

How do you know when it’s a language delay versus a disorder?

Unfortunately, there is not always a straightforward answer to this question. A language delay is just that—a delay in acquisition of language skills compared to one’s chronological and cognitive/intellectual age-peers. A young child with a language delay may exhibit a slower onset of a language skill, rate of progression through the acquisition process, sequence in which the language skills are learned, or all of the above.

However, there is a subset of children who continue to demonstrate persistent difficulties acquiring and using language skills below chronological age expectations (by preschool or school age) that cannot be explained by other factors (for example, low nonverbal intelligence, sensory impairments or autism spectrum disorder) and may be identified as having a specific language impairment (language disorder).

In contrast to a delay or a disorder is a language difference. With a language difference, communication behaviors meet the norms of the primary speech community but do not meet the norms of Standard English. This difference can exist whether the person in question is a child from a different country or simply from a different neighborhood in the same city.

So, what are some options for addressing language delays and disorders?

Intervention for a delay may take on several forms:

  • Indirect treatment and monitoring
    • Provide activities for parents and caregivers to engage in with the child, such as book-sharing and parent-child interaction groups.
    • Check in with the family periodically to monitor language development.
  • Direct intervention, including techniques such as:
    • Expansions—repeating the child’s utterance and adding grammatical and semantic detail.
    • Recasts—changing the mode or voice of the child’s original utterance (for example, declarative to interrogative).
    • Build-ups and breakdowns—the child’s utterance is expanded (built up) and then broken down into grammatical components (break down) and then built up again into its expanded form.

Intervention for a language disorder is child specific and based on that child’s current level of language functioning, profile of strengths and weaknesses, and functioning in related areas, including hearing, cognitive level and speech production skills. The overall goal of intervention is to stimulate language development and teach skills to enhance communication and access academic content. The developmental appropriateness and potential effectiveness on communication and academic and social success should be considered when developing treatment goals.

 

Aruna Hari Prasad, MA, CCC-SLP, is ASHA associate director of school services.  ahariprasad@asha.org

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Apraxia of Speech

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I was a practicing speech-language pathologist for five years before my daughter was born. I worked primarily at the elementary and middle-school levels. I took professional development workshops on childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) and treated it successfully in three kiddos from my caseload. Perhaps that’s why I was bewildered, angry and utterly devastated when I missed those very signs in my own child.

I hadn’t yet worked in early intervention, so I missed what seem like obvious signs to me now that I specialize in the disorder. I urge all SLPs to learn more about CAS, because the disorder requires a specialized approach different from other commonly used treatments for speech and language delays.

In addition, ASHA denotes that the qualified professional to diagnose CAS is an SLP with specialized knowledge in motor learning theory and skills with differential diagnosis in childhood motor speech disorder, not a neurologist or other medical practitioner. It’s important to know the signs, but also to refer your client to a qualified SLP for differential diagnosis if you suspect childhood apraxia of speech.

Here are 10 early signs and symptoms of childhood apraxia of speech:

  • Limited babbling, or variation within babbling
  • Limited phonetic diversity
  • Inconsistent errors
  • Increased errors or difficulty with longer or more complex syllable and word shapes
  • Omissions, particularly in word initial syllable shapes
  • Vowel errors/distortions
  • Excessive, equal stress
  • Loss of previously produced words
  • More difficulty with volitional versus automatic speech responses
  • Predominant use of simple syllable shapes

Other non-speech “soft signs” that may be present include:

  • Impaired volitional oral movements (oral apraxia)
    • Difficulty with volitional “smiling” “kissing” “puckering”
  • Delays with fine/gross motor skills
  • Feeding difficulties that include choking and/or poor manipulation of food
  • General awkwardness or clumsiness

These are early signs, but many overlap with other phonologic and language delays, so it’s important to keep in mind that differential diagnosis is critical, as over-diagnosis of CAS remains problematic. It’s still a relatively rare disorder; however, there are resources that can help if you suspect it.

You can tap the below resources to learn more about childhood apraxia of speech.

 

Laura Smith, MA, CCC-SLP, is a school-based and private clinician in the Denver metro area specializing in childhood apraxia of speech. She’s CASANA-certified for advanced training and clinical expertise in Childhood Apraxia of Speech and often speaks at conferences and consults for school districts or other professionals. Like her on Facebook, follow her on Pinterest, or visit her website at SLPMommyofApraxia.comlauraslpmommy@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

Interprofessional Pre-screening Shortens the Wait for Autism Diagnoses

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Editor’s Note: In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, we have several posts addressing autism-related issues throughout April. The screening program described here is one of several ASD initiatives at Wichita State University; another that eases children’s visits to the dentist is explored in this month’s April ASHA Leader issue.

 

Recently, I became passionate about expediting identification and diagnosis for young children who show signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This desire was fueled by a research project I conducted with Douglas F. Parham and Jagadeesh Rajagopalan; the results revealed that pediatricians and family physicians have not been screening young children for ASD as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (regularly conducting ASD-specific screenings for children two times prior to their second birthday) in Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma.

Based on these results, I determined that one way I could help advance the identification of these young children would be to develop an authentic interprofessional education opportunity for students in the allied-health and education programs at my university: Wichita State University in Kansas. In the spring of 2012, WSU students, faculty and community professionals agreed to form the Wichita State University-Community Partners: Autism Interdisciplinary Diagnostic Team (AIDT).

The team aims to:

  1. Educate undergraduate and graduate students to better recognize the characteristics of ASD and to be able to participate in screening, assessment and referral of children who demonstrate early signs.
  2. Provide a highly needed service to children and families throughout south-central Kansas.

Since the initiation of this team, faculty, clinical educators and students from eight departments—communication sciences and disorders (audiology and speech-language pathology), early childhood unified special education, clinical psychology, physical therapy, dental hygiene, physician assistant, nursing and public health—have participated. Additionally, the University of Kansas School of Medicine–Wichita (represented by a developmental pediatrician and an advanced practice registered nurse) has been a valued partner and referral source.

Faculty and clinical educators recruit and select students to participate in our screening program. Student participants must enroll in a field-based experience and/or an appropriate class within their respective programs. All stakeholders then do a one-day training prior to the start of each semester on identifying the characteristics of ASD, to screen, to participate in the assessment process and to identify appropriate referrals for children and families. The educators agree to participate in at least four diagnostic sessions each semester, ensuring that students from various professions have multiple opportunities to work together, while observing interprofessional collaboration among university and community professionals.

The partnering developmental pediatrician and the advanced practice registered nurse refer children and families to the screening program based on the “red flag” characteristics parents report on the pediatrician’s developmental history form. The program’s coordinator (that’s me) contacts the family via phone to gather additional developmental information, and then the team meets to discuss that information and other relevant documents.

The team conducts the evaluation over two days. The first day, we assess the child’s communication, play and cognitive abilities, using selected tools and strategies based on the child’s strengths and needs. The second day, we administer the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale-Second Edition, Standard Version, to provide the developmental pediatrician with diagnosis-relevant information. We also conduct hearing, motor and oral health screenings. The team then meets to discuss the aggregated assessment results, which, in addition to appropriate recommendations and resources, are shared with the family.

We schedule an appointment for the child and family with the developmental pediatrician approximately one week following our assessment. Someone from our team accompanies the family to the appointment to act as a liaison and assist with the examination.

Since the introduction of the AIDT, 133 students, clinical educators, faculty and community professionals across 10 disciplines have come together via this individualized education program field-based experience. Our students and professionals have assessed 24 young children who present with characteristics of ASD, and approximately 85 percent of these children have received a confirming medical diagnosis.

Participants and families alike gain from this experience. Students learn from, with and among others who are committed to interprofessional practice. Families voice their appreciation for receiving diagnostic information from multiple disciplines all at once, so they don’t have to run from place to place to receive it.

Mostly, they value how quickly the AIDT’s work enables them to get their child needed help.

 

Trisha Self, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Wichita State University and coordinator of the school’s Community Partners: Autism Interdisciplinary Diagnostic Team. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 10, Issues in Higher Education.
Trisha.Self@wichita.edu