When the COVID-19 tsunami washed over the United States in mid-March, faculty in The University of Tulsa’s Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders stepped up to develop a way for their speech-language pathology master’s students to fulfill the 400 hours of direct clinical contact with clients required to graduate. The solution was telepractice.
Since launching in the spring, telepractice has enabled the program’s students to gain valuable experience, meet their clinical practice requirements and, most importantly, serve their clients’ health needs. Ashton Clark and Mimi Khoury are two of the students involved in this novel methodology, and both of them are enthusiastic about the ability of telepractice for delivering quality care.
Originally from Fort Smith, Arkansas, Clark completed an undergraduate major in communication disorders plus a minor in human development and family sciences at the University Arkansas. Now about to enter the second year of graduate studies at TU, Clark says “speech-language pathology is an extremely rewarding field, allowing one to work with people of all ages in such a wide variety of settings and with different types of communication impairments.”
Khoury also grew up outside Oklahoma – in Junction City, Kansas – and her undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders, with a minor in human development and family science, is from Kansas State University. “I have always had a passion for working with children with disabilities,” Khoury noted. “Through speech pathology, I am able to make a positive impact on young people and their development.”
Clark and Khoury began conducting telepractice therapy sessions in early June and are set to wrap up in mid-July. Supervisors are present for each meeting and, while, delivering therapy via Zoom is not without its challenges (for instance, finding appropriate digital resources), Clark and Khoury agree it has benefited their clients and propelled their development as speech-language pathologists.
Some of Clark’s clients meet with her on a weekly basis, while others log in twice a week. Khoury’s five clients, meanwhile, include one child with whom she takes a “speedy speech” approach, which involves meeting for 15 minutes each day for four days a week. With two others, she gets together twice a week for 30 minutes at a time. “It all depends on my clients’ character and needs,” Khoury said.
Personalized, well-planned, flexible
For Clark, one of the keys to success is differentiating the scenarios for each client. “I start off our sessions by targeting the goals I hope to accomplish,” Clark commented. “I then incorporate fun, computer-friendly materials throughout in order to ensure my clients remain engaged.”
Ensuring responsiveness and variety are also central to Khoury’s approach. “Every kiddo is different, so every session needs to be too,” she said. “Some days I am using action figures and toy cars to capture a child’s attention. Other days will find me reading books or playing connect-four in order to target specific speech goals. With telepractice, you have to be extra creative and come prepared with a handful of potential activities, because you never know what might work or even what challenges you might face, such as background distractions or a poor internet connection!”
“Telepractice has given our students the opportunity to prepare for a changing work environment by using new technologies and platforms to provide services,” observed Suzanne Stanton, the coordinator of TU’s Mary K. Chapman Speech and Hearing Clinic and the Chapman Clinical Assistant Professor of Speech-Language Pathology. “For many of our patients, it has meant that they can access services they would have difficulty getting any other way. While our telepractice initiative was spurred on by COVID-19, the experience has opened up a new avenue for service delivery that we will use even after the pandemic.”
One of the advantages of telepractice that Khoury has witnessed this summer is the ability to grab and hold certain children’s attention during shorter therapy sessions. This has been especially apparent when treating articulation disorders. “The speedy speech approach has allowed us to really focus our time on placement and correcting errors in the allotted 15 minutes. This has resulted in a tremendous amount of progress,” Khoury explained.
For her part, Clark echoed Stanton’s comment that telepractice has eliminated the travel burden for clients from outside Tulsa, adding that it has given them greater access to therapy in the comfort of their own homes. Beyond that, telepractice has enabled Clark to boost the involvement of her young clients’ parents. “Coaching parents during the sessions on ways they can help their children meet their goals allows my clients to then receive more exposure to their personal goals outside of our official therapy sessions.”
Life after graduate school
In the fall, both Clark and Khoury will begin their second and final year of the master’s program. Following graduation, Khoury’s goal is to deliver speech-language pathology care in an educational setting. She is especially interested in helping either early childhood or elementary school-aged children, and she is keen to specialize in speech sound disorders.
Clark, meanwhile, has her sights set on working with adults in a hospital or long-term care facility, assisting people who have cognitive-communication disorders. “I want to help others find their voice,” she remarked. “It’s a great feeling when I can help my clients share their thoughts with their loved ones.”
Do you have a desire to help others communicate their thoughts, emotions, needs and desires? If so, The University of Tulsa’s Department of Communication Science & Disorders offers the knowledge development and skills training to prepare you for this vibrant, growing health care field.