Advancing Speech-Language Telepractice Nationwide

by Judy Goodman

At the start of the pandemic, the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic quickly redesigned in-person therapy at seven regional locations into virtual options. Launched in a matter of weeks, telepractice sessions allowed parents and caregivers to continue therapy in the home. Enrolled children began receiving remote services immediately, with thousands of virtual sessions conducted since then.

A significant outcome of increased telecommunications is the thought leadership role the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic has taken nationally, under the leadership of Jacob Gutshall, MHS, CCC-SLP, director of the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic.

Traditionally, a professional speech-language-literacy conference has been held in-person every two years, and it was scheduled to take place in St. Louis during Fall 2020. In lieu of that conference, Gutshall and the conference organizers recognized a unique opportunity for camaraderie by convening a national collaboration virtually.

The first Zoom session, held on September 21, 2020, was a resounding success. Twenty-five speech-language therapists participated, from as far away as Alaska and California, to Nebraska and Virginia. It was an impressive representation.

“It’s exceptionally helpful to share ideas for best practices in teletherapy,” Gutshall said. “Research on telepractice for young children has yet to catch up to the needs of today. Professionals were often reinventing various approaches and it’s been amazing to be able to share results through this collaboration.”

A focused topic has been how to best use emerging technology in practice. Early on, a student studying at the RiteCare Early Language and Literacy Lab at the University of Central Missouri shared a simple tool with amazing effects: using a green screen to keep children engaged. She demonstrated how it is possible to do “magic” for children, making things come out of a virtual background (using a bucket painted green). This simple “old school” technology keeps the kids’ attention and keeps them working on their goals through telepractice.

“Now all of our Walker Clinic therapists use green screens and PowerPoints with targeted games and language lessons shared through Google docs,” Gutshall said. “As we share more, we are finding websites with low cost products, and ideas are constantly popping up on Facebook groups, activity sites and more Zoom options. These new tips and tricks are transformative for the profession. Our virtual collaborative sessions allow speech therapists everywhere to stay on top of innovative advancements.”

Fortunately, Gutshall and the Maryville team have benefitted from additional grants and special funders to promptly redesign speech-language therapy in the digital world. From previously relying on children’s toys, workbooks and picture cards, therapists transitioned to a tablet full of games, apps and digital testing materials. Today’s toolkit requires additional resources to be tomorrow’s solution.

The national Scottish Rite Masonic organization has stepped up to provide Zoom accounts at low cost for all RiteCare programs who need them. In partnership, the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic’s team at Maryville continues to lead the national effort to share ideas by securing speakers and hosting virtual collaborative sessions each month.

“As a profession, we are truly on the cusp of reaching more people with communication disorders than ever before. We need to continue to share ideas, adapt and innovate. Now that the doors have been opened, we will soon have the ability to make our services more accessible to anyone in any community,” Gutshall added.

Each child enrolled in the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic is served by a master’s-level speech-language pathologist, and therapy sessions are tailored to each child’s individual needs. Services include speech-language screenings and evaluations, individual and group therapy, audiological evaluations and caregiver training.

To learn more about the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic, click here. All Clinic services are free and available, regardless of the family’s financial circumstances.

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