This is part of a continuing series of posts on therapy ideas to support assistants (SLPAs) and paraprofessionals in the schools in their work with students and their supervising SLPs.

If you have a new iPad, or are thinking about getting one, you’re probably excited about all the great things you’ll be able to do in therapy. But how do you get started? Technology changes so fast! How can we even attempt to keep up with all the new apps? And thinking about how to integrate them into therapy in a reasoned and appropriate way – well, that can seem overwhelming! 

Instead of thinking about individual apps, let’s think about a therapist’s role in therapy – whether that therapist is an SLP, SLPA, or paraprofessional – versus technology’s role in therapy. There are all kinds of activities and apps that entertain kids, provide practice on speech/language skills, or even relate to the classroom curriculum. But if a student can independently complete the activity, or if the technology itself gives all the necessary feedback, it is likely not a good use of therapy time! 

Additional practice of a previously learned skill or review of concepts does not constitute specially designed instruction in speech and language skills. Technology should not teach the new skill, but instead should be used by the SLP/SLPA/paraprofessional to present the concept in a simplified way or in an alternative manner (think audio or visual support). The therapist (SLP/SLPA/paraprofessional) is then involved in scaffolding the activity while the new skill is learned. 

At its core, an app is no different than any other therapy tool. Browsing the iTunes store is no different than standing at the Super Duper table, or walking the aisles at Learning Palace. Sean Sweeney, CCC-SLP (blogger at speechtechie.com) introduces the FIVES criteria to select good tech resources:

  • Free or nearly free* - of course any piece of technology is an investment, but when thinking about apps or accessible websites, there are a tremendous number available for free or very low price. 
  • Interactive - the therapy tool should provide opportunities for students to make decisions, perform actions, create a product, etc.
  • Visual - technology provides an opportunity for a multisensory experience that can support other forms of instruction
  • Educationally Relevant - bring it back to topics, skills, and strategies that support state standards and classroom curriculum!
  • “Speechie” - in other words, the activity should target the student’s selected speech/language goals!

So how do you get started finding and using great apps in therapy? 

  1. Give yourself some time and a budget – say 2 hours and $30.
  2. Start with a search in the App Store for something that interests you – say “speech language therapy” or “prepositions” or “articulation”. Not everything is appropriate for our field, but once you find something that fits, pay attention to the apps by the same developer (listed on the left) and the “Customers Also Bought” section at the bottom of the page.
  3. Install some free and nearly free apps and play!
  4. Think about how you might use them in therapy. What goals might you address? Picture the session. What is your role and what is the role of the app? 
  5. Try it out and talk to people about how it’s going. Talk with your supervising SLP about the best use of technology for different students. You’re on your way!

*Some last thoughts on free apps… “free and nearly free” are very appealing terms to anyone with a budget, but be aware of the “price” of free apps. More often than not, you get what you pay for. The use of advertising and within-app sales can be distracting, disappointing, and even misleading. While the broad variety of free apps makes them worth looking at, the equal variety and generally higher quality of apps sold at the $5-$10 range can improve your app experience. And when you pay for an app, you are largely supporting hard-working, independent developers. Support the people who are producing high quality products. And remember to read the reviews and search for demos or online reviews of higher price apps before you buy!  

SLPAs and paraprofessionals should always operate within the scope defined by state and national licensing organizations and should only conduct allowable tasks under the supervision of a speech-language pathologist.