Will telehealth reduce my child’s communication issues?

Posted 3 weeks ago by Georgie Waters
Speech pathologists are essential practitioners in early intervention services for children with communication difficulties. [Source: Shutterstock]
Speech pathologists are essential practitioners in early intervention services for children with communication difficulties. [Source: Shutterstock]

It’s important for children to have access to speech therapy for early intervention if they have communication or swallowing difficulties. Sometimes a lack of transport or other commitments of family members can make this difficult, but because of telehealth, this is now a greatly reduced issue.

Key points

  • Telehealth services have transformed the healthcare landscape, with Australians in remote and rural areas finding healthcare to be more accessible
  • Choosing the right environment is important to get the most out of a telehealth session

 

One in 14 Australians are affected by developmental language disorder which causes difficulties in using and understanding language, according to data released by Speech Pathology Australia in 2023. This is just one disability that speech pathologists work hard with clients to help them develop their skills.

The need for speech pathologists is increasing with data projecting that 2,272 speech pathologists will be required in New South Wales alone in 2040, according to NSW Health in 2021. This is related to the predicted demand increase of 1.5 percent, meaning that finding ways to meet such demand is crucial to ensure the treatment is received by all Australians who require it.

Experts in the field, referred to as speech pathologists, are health professionals who provide diagnosis and treatment of various communication conditions for children and adults.

The work of a speech pathologist is highly specialised, focusing on:

  • helping a person develop and achieve their own communication and swallowing goals;
  • improving speech clarity or learning how to make sounds or signs;
  • understanding concepts and spoken words;
  • using pictures or a communication device to communicate;
  • how to have a two-way conversation;
  • finding the best way to manage eating and drinking safely, enjoyably and independently;
  • helping the support network around the individual to build their awareness and skill level to best interact with the person and support them in achieving these goals;
  • educating the wider community about the impacts of communication and swallowing needs and showing others how to be inclusive of all abilities and different ways of communicating and eating or drinking.

If you are concerned about your child’s development, Speech Pathology Australia has released guidelines for milestones expected to be reached at certain ages and these may help determine if the child is having difficulties with their communication. However, if you still have concerns, it’s important to seek further advice as early intervention is most effective.

Forty-six percent of Australian children with disability had some form of communication difficulty in the 2015 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. However, it’s not just children who may require assistance from a speech pathologist; between 5 –10 percent of adults currently have a communication disorder. Some people may not be able to leave their homes due to other commitments such as caring for other children or lack of transport. However, telehealth has helped Australians to access services that may have otherwise been unavailable to them.

Telehealth involves the use of technology during a healthcare session to facilitate communication between client and practitioner. This can include scheduled phone or video calls that follow a similar process to an in-person consultation with a healthcare practitioner.

Telehealth has benefits for clients as well as the healthcare providers. Both parties benefit from reduced travel time, greater ability to access remote patients or those who cannot leave their homes due to illness as well as reduced waiting times.

However, not all sessions are suitable for telehealth. Some tests and assessments must be done in person due to the nature of the data required for collection. For example, in speech pathology, some people with swallowing difficulties may need a barium swallow test which must be done in a clinic as it uses a special type of x-ray machine called a fluoroscope

Although telehealth cannot be used in every situation, the impact of such services cannot be understated. Between 2020 and 2022 when the COVID-19 pandemic was running rampant, over one million health services were delivered through telehealth to Australians all over the country.

This highlights the benefit of patients still being able to attend their doctor’s appointments, helping to ensure that patients get the healthcare services they need when they need them. 

Suppose the speech pathologist has suggested telehealth for your child’s sessions. In that case, either you or another responsible adult must be available to assist the child with technical difficulties and with the materials the speech pathologist has provided. 

While a telehealth session for speech therapy doesn’t involve the speech pathologist physically in the room, they can use a webcam to observe and interact with the child as they work through materials to assess and improve the child’s communication. Many services will also screen share, meaning that clients can see exactly what the speech pathologist is discussing, as well as using shared typing and drawing functions. 

Before agreeing to a telehealth appointment, it’s important to consider the place at which the child will participate. A loud environment with lots of noise and distractions may detract from the activities or may make the child feel uncomfortable. 

 

Have you used telehealth to access speech pathology services?

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