Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Technology in Speech and Language

Hi, my name is Meghan G. Graham M.S. CCC-SLP. I am a speech and language pathologist working in a private pediatric clinic in the Boston, Massachusetts area. I also contribute as a writer and professional consultant for Achievement Products, for which I am compensated.

I have worked with children with special needs for over 5 years, and am constantly seeking new tools and products that would improve the experience, as well as strengthen the skills, of the children on my caseload. Achievement Products provides a wide variety of these therapeutic materials that support language development.

As in all fields, the technology fever has spread to the world of speech and language pathology. Clinicians are using technology in more creative and innovative ways in order to better achieve students’ goals and objectives. Technology not only provides another medium to help children with their speech and language development, it also provides excitement, motivation, and in some cases, an actual “voice” to children with special needs.

Technology has been used for some time in our field as a means of “augmentative” or “alternative communication” for children and adults who can’t communicate in conventional ways (i.e. voice, written language, sign language, etc). Previous augmentative devices were limiting in many ways. These devices, which were often expensive and bulky, came equipped with complicated software, limited overall voice output capabilities and were typically difficult to transport. However, with the recent advances in technology, and the extreme popularity of smart phones (i.e. Android, iPhone), mp3 devices (i.e. iPod, iTouch), and tablets (i.e. iPad); augmentative communication has become easily accessible to everyone, including parents and educators. The “new” augmentative communication for children and adults is easily accessible, easily transported, and more importantly, easily programmed. In this way, the most important thing, the child’s communication, can take place with ease.

One such “voice output” program is called Proloquo2go (www.proloquo2go.com). This product provides a means of communication for individuals who struggle do so. It is a picture-based voice output device. This program is very user friendly, making programming less challenging for parents, and other educational team members. However, to make the program most beneficial to an augmentative device user, consultation with a communication specialist such as a speech language pathologist is recommended to assist with overall organization of language. The program has extreme flexibility as well, offering simple to complex expressive output (i.e. single words, to complete sentences), various voice output options (i.e. male, female, child, adult voices), rate of speech options, the ability to use their extensive library of pictures or upload your own, and even flexibility with regards to the number of visible icons on the page. This program currently is available on the iTouch and iPad. Having used this program myself with several clients, I continue to be impressed with its capabilities.

Another “voice output” program is called Tap To Talk (www.taptotalk.com). This product is similar to Proloquo2go, however, it is better suited to augmentative communication users who are early communicators, primarily communicating somewhere around the single to two word level. This program provides “albums” organized by categories (i.e. school, home, etc.). Children can select albums by pressing buttons, which then provide voice output. This program allows for the programmers to record voices themselves, and can vary the output from single words to sentences (i.e. milk vs. I want milk please.). In addition to a comprehensive picture library, this program offers easy uploading of personal photos. Tap To Talk is available on the iTouch, iPad, Nintendo D.S, and soon will be available for Android Smartphone users. I have found that this program is very beneficial for children with a number of team members, as programming can occur remotely from any computer, allowing for many individuals to assist with creating “albums” for children to use in their functional environments.

Technology in speech pathology isn’t just limited to voice-output devices. Clinicians continue to use and/or develop speech and language applications for treatment and assessment, use CD-Rom software, various websites, even www.youtube.com etc. to treat children with speech and language difficulties. The possibilities are endless, and are helping to motivate students and clinicians alike. Are their specific applications and websites that you are using to help students reach their goals? Share your latest success story with us. Half of the battle is keeping up with the wealth of information and products available to clinicians. We’d love to hear from you.