Get with the times – Speech and Language Therapists need to be informed about apps!

Apps are here whether we like it or not. SLTs can't keep their head in the sandConsidering my previous post highlighting some of my thoughts on the availability of apps in SLT I thought I’d attempt to follow this up relatively quickly with some of my thoughts on the SLT’s responsibility in being aware of and appraising apps. Both of the comments on the previous post (at the time of writing this) alluded to the same point in one way or another: as SLTs we have to accept that parents/clients/family will not be passive when it comes to speech and language impairment. It is only natural to want to help when your child or partner has difficulties with communication. Therefore, in the current climate, an app may make for an obvious choice as a possible way to help. This may be especially the case when SLTs’ caseloads are growing and it may be a considerable amount of time before the client has the chance to receive ‘professional’ intervention.

Therefore, to ally my apprehensions, I do propose that it is the SLTs responsibility to:

1) accept that apps are going to be increasingly relevant in the field of SLT. Even if apps are not an individual SLT’s preferred method of delivering intervention, we still have a responsibility to have an awareness of apps because there will more than likely be a time when a new client says something along the lines of “I’m thinking about buying this app because it says it can help with X”.

When faced with such a statement, we are the expert so we should be able to offer an opinion, or at least we should know how we can find out more information.

2) be able to critically appraise apps in the same way that they critically appraise research literature. In other words, SLTs should be confident in working with apps to work out if it is relevant for their client caseload in general and to be in a position to know if it would be beneficial (or at least not harmful) for an individual client.

I’m not sure if I’d be happy to say that SLTs should be in a position to recommend a particular app because I think this may present issues if the client fails to see any progress after buying and using the app that is recommended, but I think SLTs should be in a position to give information to clients in a way that they may make an informed choice if they are seriously considering buying an app, e.g.:

“this app does present a task which is similar to what I would do with you if I were to see you in person. The app does give you a score so you can see how well you are doing but the difference is that it won’t give you the same feedback if you are getting answers wrong. If I we were doing it together than when you get something wrong, then we can discuss it and work towards getting it right next time”

In this situation, a client may be able to make an informed choice in that:1) knowing that they live alone and rarely see family it would be difficult to find someone else who they can practice with and knowing that they have severe difficulty it may be a bit early to get this app as it may lead to lots of frustration; or 2) knowing that their partner would be able to spend some time each day working with them while using the app, they would at least be able to get some support and feedback and therefore it may be worth trying the app.

As I say, this situation assumes that for whatever reason the SLT is not able to see the client for intervention within the near future and that the client will be using the app more or less independently as their sole means of therapy/practice.If the SLT is able to see the client for intervention then it may be a case of presenting information like:

“this app presents the same task as what we do although it won’t give you the same feedback as when I am here. Using it may be useful if you want to do more practice when I am not here as you know what to do and you can work on it at your own pace and do as much or as little as you want each day. If you do find it difficult or find yourself getting frustrated we can always talk about it next time I see you”

I think we may agree that such responses would be received better by clients than a response such as “I don’t really know much about apps as: I prefer traditional methods / I don’t think they are useful” (not that I expect an SLT to give such a blunt response).

Anyway, as always, what I intended to be a fairly short and concise post has turned into a mini essay.What this is eventually leading up to in the next post is my suggestions to SLTs of points to consider if and when appraising an app.As opposed to existing reviews that I’ve seen of apps I’m intending to present a structured approach to reviewing apps which may be useful for SLTs in developing an understanding of how apps in general, and specific apps, may be applied in SLT practice.I don’t expect I will have covered everything and I’ll be very open to suggestions but at least I hope it will get people thinking critically as opposed to thinking cynically (i.e. trying to find the negatives) or thinking with rose-tinted glasses on (i.e. only seeing the positives).

To be continued …


About chrissp1980
Currently a lecturer in speech pathology in North Queensland, Australia. I'm lecturing in acquired disorders of speech and language and also attempting to enthuse students in conducting clinically-relevant projects using principles of Evidence-Based Practice. Wish me luck!

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