How Effective is One-on-One Speech Therapy for Older Children with Developmental Language Disorders?

by VocoVision on January 6, 2017

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one on one therapyThere are many resources available for preschool and elementary-age children who have developmental language disorder, a delay in mastering language skills in children who have no hearing loss or other developmental delays. But what about older children who still struggle with language mastery? Can one-on-one therapy still help those children? A team of researchers from the United Kingdom decided to find out. Their findings were published in the International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders this past November.

The researchers conducted the study because they found that there was very little data available that provided evidence that individual speech and language therapy was effective for older children with developmental language disorder, particularly those who have receptive language disorder. Receptive language disorder is when a child has trouble understanding or otherwise processing what is being said to them. The team found that the few studies that did exist focused on smaller speech disorder subcategories instead of at the service as a whole for all children who need such intervention.

The study aimed to show whether one-on-one speech therapy sessions for one school term helped students with developmental language disorder. They also wanted to investigate whether the student’s gender, ability to understand language, autism spectrum status, or learning level affected their response to the therapy.

The experiment was set up like this: They randomly chose 72 students from ages 9-17 at a specialist school for children who have developmental language disorder. 88% of these children had receptive language impairments. All the speech language pathologists who work at that school participated in the study.

The therapists assessed each of the participating students before the study to score them on 120 different target areas that the students were trying to master—such as the ability to articulate the “S” sound. The targets included a wide range of speech, language and communication areas, both speaking and understanding. During the term, the students and the speech language pathologists worked one-on-one on all 120 targets. The therapists also kept track of 120 more control measures—skills they weren’t working on, and so weren’t expected to change.

The researchers found that the students made significant progress on target areas they had received therapy for, and very little progress on the control measure areas. That improvement was consistent across the board, regardless of gender, receptive language difficulty, autism spectrum diagnosis, or different learning level. The bottom line is that individual therapy works. Since direct one-on-one intervention is effective, they recommend that individual therapy should be available for all school-age children.

That begs the question of how children can feasibly receive one-on-one therapy, especially with such a shortage of speech language pathologists and with students potentially in rural or far-flung places. Teletherapy may prove to be a valuable tool that can help all students receive that crucial individual therapy.

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