Mobile Devices in Speech-Language Therapy

18 Nov 2014 9:01 AM | Carla Krishan CUADRO

iPadWe see iPads everywhere.  These and other similar tablets have already become ubiquitous in everyday life.  Many students have turned to using iPads for reading textbooks in e-format and for taking down notes.  Doctors use it to access patient records.  Businessmen turn to their iPads to check on files and keep track of the stock market.  At a violin concerto I once went to, the maestro used an iPad to view his musical score.  Instead of swiping on the screen, he used a bluetooth foot pedal to turn to the next page.

Conversation TherappyBy this time, we are no longer strangers to these devices.  Many of us have one.  Whys is it so compelling to acquire a mobile device for work anyway?  Here are several of the advantages of using mobile device technology in our work:

  • apps can be used as therapy tools:  Browse through Apple’s App Store or the Google Play Store for Android and you will find tons of apps that can be used with your clients.  With well-chosen programs and given appropriate guidance with specific goals in mind, any client can benefit from using mobile apps.
  • saves one time, money and storage space:  Rather than photocopying materials and books, many of us choose to carry copies of useful material in electronic format.  Looking for a specific word in an eBook?  Do a quick Search and you are brought to the correct page in the eBook you are reading.  Worksheets?  These can either be printed out using a wireless printer (or attach a wired printer to your wifi router to print wirelessly) or you can use apps to ‘color’ or ‘draw’ on the worksheet.
  • engages participation from clients:  One will be hard-pressed to have a client who would refuse to explore what is on a mobile device.  Whether it is an actual game app or a therapy app, the most user-friendly and visually-engaging ones are guaranteed to be used over and over again
  • apps can track and monitor user’s progress and performance:  Many apps that are specifically designed for use at therapy possess this feature.  Such apps discreetly mark a user’s answer as correct or incorrect, and at the end of the activity tallies not just the percent of correct answers, but also the items that have been covered. Several therapy apps actually keep track of the progress a client has made  across sessions when the activity had been used all over again.
  • can be used to demonstrate processes, explain concepts:  There are a lot of apps that allow one to see inside the human body such as when producing a specific phoneme, or can play saved videos on what goes on inside us when swallowing.  Such apps convert the iPad into one indispensable educational tool.
  • can be used as an AAC device:  the iPad IS an AAC device.  Search hard enough on the Internet, and one will read stories on how it has helped hundreds of users to communicate using the appropriate AAC apps.  Prices range from free to costly, with the other end of the spectrum toting huge customization options.
  • functions as a workstation, acts like a notebook or a drawing pad:  read and reply to emails, download and send images, pull out documents from the cloud, quickly write a note and save it in a specific notebook, or draw fast on it like it was a whiteboard.
As with every tool, the iPad does come with a few disadvantages:
  • initial cost:  even the most basic wifi-only iPad that comes with 16gb worth of flash memory is pricier compared to several Android tablets in the market today.  Some opt to purchase more affordable tablets only to discover that there are many iOS apps that are not available in the Google Play Store.  One must note though that more and more apps are being made available in both platforms.   If you feel that a client of yours may benefit from using a mobile device, take the time to do some research and explore options for your client.  Should an Android tablet be a more viable option, search ahead and make sure that the apps that your client needs are available in the Play Store.
  • the need to be connected… often:  Not all centers have internet connectivity, and not all clients will have constant and reliable connections.  iPads and other tablets may have apps that require a user to sign in, or will need to download or stream content off the internet.  Again, check the apps that you intent to use with your clients.  If an app constantly requests for connection, it may be worth your (and your client’s) while to look for alternative apps.
  • fragile, and needs some troubleshooting know-how:  with technology comes great responsibility, and seeing a cracked screen on an iPad can weaken any owner’s knees.  Aside from the initial cash-out for the device itself, one finds it necessary to spend a bit more extra for a good screen protector and a cushioned case.   As for troubleshooting minor technical issues on an iPad, prepare to be the troubleshooter.  Most parents would turn to their child’s clinician for tech guidance.      

         Between a parent/caregiver and a mobile device, we are all very aware that the lure of the latter is much stronger.  It is good practice to ascertain that for every child who uses an iPad on a constant basis, allot one parent-teacher meeting and walk the child’s parents through the advantages and disadvantages of using mobile devices.  Many use these devices as virtual nannies, and as clinicians we are only too aware of the cognitive consequences such habits may bring.  Emphasize the need to ‘sit with the child’ while he/she uses the device in order to facilitate its use and mediate between the device and the child.  Specific time limits may be suggested to parents regarding their child’s use of the mobile device.  The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) policy statement had laid out recommendations for parents on managing the use of media.  Emphasize, too, that in the child’s (or adult client’s) sessions, the use of mobile devices are kept at minimum since actual human interaction and communication exchange trumps any app that technology may offer.

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*The author declares that there is no conflict of interest with the companies of any of the devices, applications or products that are mentioned in this article.    

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