Can a Nonverbal Child Do Online Speech Therapy?

If you have a child who doesn’t speak and you’re considering online speech therapy, it’s normal to wonder how it will work. Speech therapists often hear this question: “How can you do speech therapy with a child over the computer if they’re nonverbal?”

If a child does not talk, they can still participate in and benefit from online speech therapy. Let’s take a closer look at online speech therapy, how it works for nonspeaking children, and what the benefits are. 

How does online speech therapy work?

You may be wondering what online speech therapy looks like. The first online session will be an assessment of your child’s communication abilities. This evaluation will give the speech therapist a good picture of your child’s current strengths and weaknesses and where to start with therapy.

The speech therapist will also talk with you about why you’re seeking speech therapy for your child. This is the perfect time to bring up what you’re hoping speech therapy can address, as well as any questions you have.

Once the evaluation is complete, your speech therapist will create measurable goals to target over the next few months. These will be specific to your child’s current needs. The measurable aspect of these goals is important, as it enables your therapist to track and monitor the progress being made.

As part of this, the speech therapist will determine the right starting point for your child’s therapy. Maybe they’re close to using words and just need a small amount of support. Perhaps they may do well using gestures or an AAC device. Other modes of communication can help a child communicate until they start speaking, or some children may use these modes long-term. Your online speech therapist will be there to guide you every step of the way.

Play is a big part of online speech therapy

Speech therapy should be individualized for each client. That means sessions are tailored for each family and their child’s specific goals. During sessions, your therapist will select fun, engaging activities that target those goals. 

Play is always used in a speech therapy session, regardless of the child’s age. Playing in online speech therapy might mean stacking blocks with a toddler, making pretend Play-Doh food with a preschooler, or playing an online game with a school-age child. Play might also mean getting up and moving around–maybe dancing, or playing a physical game.

While we often think of play as taking a break from work, it’s quite the opposite. Play is how children learn and explore the world around them. That’s why developing good play skills is so beneficial to their communication growth and development.

Not to mention, playing helps kids stay motivated to practice therapy goals that may feel a little overwhelming or challenging. Play helps shift the feeling of speech therapy being “work.”

During the session, a parent or caregiver should be nearby to help and support the child. The speech therapist will likely use your child’s own items and toys you already have on hand. They’ll show you how to use them throughout the week to prompt your child to communicate.

These could be items as simple as bubbles, a ball, toy cars, crayons and paper, or a favorite book. While the speech therapist can certainly initiate play activities and mirror the actions that are happening in the child’s home, it’s essential for parents to participate. That’s especially true if your child is younger than 7 years old, or needs more guidance or support to follow directions.

Is online speech therapy different from in-person speech therapy?

With online therapy, the client communicates and learns from their speech therapist through a computer or tablet, versus sitting in a room together. So the two forms of therapy are different in that regard.

However, your speech therapist will target the same goals with your child regardless of the setting. And there are many benefits to online speech therapy, especially for children who aren’t talking. One big difference is that online speech therapy makes it easier for parents and caregivers to participate in their child’s care. That way families learn communication techniques they can use with their child at home–and the child makes faster progress.

How does online speech therapy work for kids who are nonverbal?

A child who is nonspeaking does not use any words to communicate. They may vocalize different sounds in response to situations or people, but they do not use true words to talk and express their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

You might be thinking, “How is speech therapy going to work when my child can’t talk?” Think about it like this: Your child isn’t talking–and that’s the reason they need to see a speech therapist. It shouldn’t be a reason not to seek care! Speech therapists know how to work with children who have all kinds of communication abilities, both in-person and online.

Plus, during online sessions, you’ll be there to support your child, talk with the speech therapist, and learn strategies to use at home. Unlike speech therapy at school or a clinic, online speech therapy makes parent involvement easy. You’ll learn what your child is learning and can practice with them throughout the week. And that benefits both verbal and nonverbal children alike!

Benefits of online speech therapy for nonverbal children

One of the biggest benefits of online speech therapy for kids who aren’t talking is the fact that therapy happens from the comfort of home, in a child’s most natural and relaxed environment. Plus, when the speech therapist can watch how the child interacts and communicates at home, they can identify what’s going well and what to focus on. If a child is growing frustrated or grunting and crying during a session, the speech therapist can work with the family to figure out the cause and how to help the child communicate. 

Let’s imagine we’re in an online session, and the speech therapist asks the parent to present a book to the child. The child gets frustrated when the parent shows them the book. Based on the child’s gestures toward the bookshelf, the speech therapist thinks they may want a different book. The therapist can ask the parent to present a few other books and allow the child to choose one. When the child gets the book they want, they settle down. The speech therapist identifies that giving the child choices when possible may help them better communicate and cut down on frustration. 

Speech therapy of any kind will identify not only differences in your child’s communication, but their strengths, as well. Parents of nonspeaking kids may be inclined to think, “They’re not talking, therefore they can’t communicate.” While the child likely does have challenges with communication, a speech therapist can assess how they’re communicating right now, which the family may not be able to see as easily. 

For example, your child may use gestures or simple vocalizations. They may point to items they need, or make early attempts at words that aren’t easily recognizable. It’s easy for families to not notice this right off the bat, simply because they’re looking for clear, spoken words. But communication is much more than talking! 

Other benefits of online speech therapy

The convenience of online speech therapy often allows families to start therapy more quickly. When you can have sessions on weeknights or weekends, and you don’t have to drive anywhere, that flexibility is a big bonus! Starting sooner will allow your child to get the help they need and start communicating more quickly. 

Every speech therapy organization is different. However, at Expressable, you can text with your speech therapist throughout the week to ask questions and share progress. We also offer a wealth of educational resources, demo videos, and home activities for practicing what your child is learning in therapy.

If you’re interested in learning more about online speech therapy, reach out to us for a free consultation. You can talk with a licensed speech therapist and ask any questions you have. We’re here to support you as you support your child’s communication growth!

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