What if My Child Won't Sit in Front of a Screen for Speech Therapy?

Online speech therapy is a convenient, flexible option for many families. Research shows that it works just as well as in-person speech therapy. And it offers a unique opportunity for parents to be involved in their child’s therapy sessions. But for some parents, a nagging thought might creep in: “There’s no way my child is going to sit still and look at a screen for that long.”

If you’ve thought this, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common concerns that online speech therapists hear! Let’s take a closer look at what online speech therapy is really like and what makes it successful. (Spoiler alert: It’s completely OK if your child can’t sit still or focus on the screen! In fact, in many cases, we don’t expect them to.)

What happens during online speech therapy sessions for kids?

Online speech therapy should be individualized for each client. That means sessions are tailored for each family and their child’s specific goals. 

Play is always used in a speech therapy session, regardless of the child’s age. Playing in 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.

Play helps kids stay motivated to practice therapy goals that may feel a little challenging.

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.”

For each speech therapy session, a therapist might ask parents or caregivers to have a few toys or activities on hand. 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.

The top secret to success for online speech therapy

That brings us to one of key ingredients for successful speech therapy: parent involvement. When parents and caregivers are involved in sessions, learning strategies they can use with their child at home, this is called parent coaching. Speech therapists welcome the chance to coach caregivers and equip them with the tools, knowledge, and techniques they need to improve their child’s communication. The more families can practice at home, between sessions, the faster the child will make progress.

This is one of the main reasons online speech therapy works so well. Compared with traditional in-person therapy at a clinic or school, it’s easier for caregivers to participate online. Not to mention, the child benefits from learning at home, in their most comfortable and natural environment.

Don’t just take our word for it! Research shows the benefits of coaching parents to get involved in their child’s speech practice. While your speech therapist brings clinical expertise to the table, you’re the expert on your child. Numerous research studies have shown that when caregivers play an active role in their child’s therapy–as opposed to being a passive observer–children make much more progress toward their goals.

What if my child can’t sit in front of a screen and focus on speech therapy?

OK, raise your hand if you’ve thought–or maybe heard from a friend or family member–“How can you expect a young child to sit and look at a screen for 30 minutes of therapy?”

Online speech therapists have heard this concern lots of times. But here’s a little secret: This isn’t actually how online speech therapy is designed to work! Yes, there is a screen involved. And yes, your speech therapist might use fun and interactive on-screen activities to interest your child. But online speech therapy is so much more than just sitting and looking at a screen. 

This brings us back to parent involvement. Not only is it an effective way to help your child learn, it’s a great way to keep them engaged in speech therapy. For example, your therapist might suggest a specific way for you to play or interact with your child during the session, while the therapist offers guidance and support. 

Speech therapists know how important it is to be flexible and go with the flow. Following the child’s lead is most important. 

An experienced speech therapist will have other techniques up their sleeve to help online therapy go smoothly. If a child still has trouble sitting still, the speech therapist may provide a certain amount of structure and direction. This may include creating a visual schedule to follow during the session, having the family be in a smaller room to prevent the child from running too far away, or even using a reward system. After your speech therapist understands your child’s preferences, how they learn, and their home environment, they’ll tailor treatment based on that. This is called a child-led approach, and speech therapists and families see great results from it. 

So rest assured that if your child needs to get up, it’s OK! Many children need movement to help them stay regulated. Speech therapists know how to incorporate movement exercises and activities while working on speech goals. They might have your child do the following:

  • Sing songs that involve movement

  • Do an obstacle course, scavenger hunt, or I Spy game while working on therapy tasks 

  • Complete a therapy task and then get a short break to move or play however they like

To sum up, speech therapists know how important it is to be flexible and go with the flow. They may plan sessions ahead of time, but they’re always prepared for that plan to go by the wayside! Following the child’s lead is most important. 

Example of an online speech therapy session

We’ve covered a lot of tips and tricks that are used in online speech therapy. Now, let’s put it all together and look at what might happen in an actual online session with a toddler. (Please note, this is a hypothetical example. No personal client information is being shared.)

Let’s say an online speech therapist is seeing a 2-year-old toddler who is extremely active. He has a short attention span, only sits still for a few minutes during hands-on activities, and loves music. He is being seen in speech therapy for a speech delay, or limited expressive language

When he and his mother show up for the online session, he’s fussy and wants to run around. The speech therapist gives him a few minutes to get the wiggles out, while she talks with the child’s mom to give her a chance to ask questions or share updates. Mom says that today has been a difficult day for her kiddo, and she gives the therapist some ideas of things he may like. She says he’s been asking to color and wants Spotify on so he can dance to his favorite songs. 

The speech therapist will then find a way to target the toddler’s treatment goals while using activities he enjoys. She may start off by having him practice signs or words like “more” or “on” in order to request music. This is where parent involvement comes in. Mom can turn the music on and off to keep these requests going. Every time the boy says “more,” the music turns on and he gets a minute to dance around.  

This is a great way for the mom to learn what words and signs to practice with her child, as well as any tips from the speech therapist about how to help him communicate.

The speech therapist will find a way to target the toddler’s speech goals using activities he enjoys.

After awhile, the child grows too frustrated to participate when the music is turned off. So, the speech therapist knows it’s time to switch gears. She may present two choices for him. He is told that he can “color” or “read books.” Not surprisingly, he gestures for his crayons. He sits for a few minutes for this task. The speech therapist can help him with words like “draw” or “picture.” The speech therapist may prompt his mother to offer two colors to him, and have him imitate the word for the color he wants. During this session, the toddler may be more likely to imitate the word from his mom than from the speech therapist. 

After about 5 minutes, the toddler is done with this activity and starts running around the room. The speech therapist then asks Mom to pull out some toys he hasn’t played with in a while. The boy is excited about the toys, but he’s frustrated that he can’t have them all. The speech therapist guides the parent through this situation. Mom sets the laptop or tablet where the speech therapist can still see them, and the speech therapist prompts her through the interaction. The mother is told which toys to take out, and what words to model for her child to imitate. He starts having a hard time looking at his mother and attending to the task, so the speech therapist suggests a new activity Mom can use to regain his attention. 

As you can see, in this scenario, the child didn’t have to sit down much or watch the speech therapist. The activity changed as needed. Online speech therapy should be about following the child’s lead.

And the child’s parent was an important part of the session. She learned techniques she can use throughout the week to help build her child’s language skills–which will help him make faster progress. 

We’re here to answer your speech therapy questions 

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

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