Why I Stopped Using Apps in Speech Therapy

I’m so sick of boxes and that ridiculous packing tape that wants so badly to stick on itself. Have you ever experienced carrying box after box after box in NC heat? It’s brutal. I did it moving offices this spring, twice in August moving kids to college and then this past weekend when I moved offices again.

It really makes you assess all your stuff.

But here’s the thing. Several years ago I really embraced the app thing. Dedicated speech and language apps were coming on the market, iPads were hot and the kids were so into them. It was easy. Like super easy. I could sail into the school with an iPad and my files in a slim tote and I was good to go. And that part I really liked.

Unfortunately when it seems too good to be true…

The kids were into it, but it meant they weren’t as into me. Eyes were glued to the screen. They were distracted by any fancy bell and whistle the app had (or they were complaining that it was too boring because some of those early apps were really a worksheet on a screen). Those quick little fingers often pressed buttons before I was ready for them to.

The apps weren’t terribly flexible. If we got started on a game or a pencil/paper activity and it wasn’t quite right, I could—and often did—stay with it, but I’d adapt it so it actually met my specific needs. With an app, I started feeling like I was locked into what I had to do. And the language apps especially never seem to provide the practice my students need. They really need to have those language concepts (pronouns, verb tenses, directions, sequencing) happening in real-time and in natural contexts if there’s going to be any hope for carry-over.

I also realized that these kids were often the tougher to manage ones and, for better or worse, parents were allowing relying on a decent amount of screen time at home. Part of my bargain needed to be providing the tougher one to one time. Not one to one to screen.

So, I stopped using apps. My iPad was “misplaced” at home for a few months and it never became a big deal.

When I was hauling another box up the stairs to my new space in 90-degree heat, I kept telling myself that the aggravation was worth it. When I’m trudging a bulging bag around the school, I know I’m doing the right thing…even if I miss the ease.

P.S. I feel like I should be upfront about my one exception—those older elementary kids who have been receiving services for articulation foreeeeever. If I or they or both of us, need a break on occasion to stay motivated, you might see me reunited with my iPad.

I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree! Leave me a comment below and let me know when or if you use a tablet in speech.


This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Heidi

    100% agree! I made a conscious decision to not bring tech/apps into my school or private practice therapy!!

  2. Lindy Murray

    Completely agree! I work exclusively with kids on the AS–the iPad was the impetus for meltdowns and task refusals (YouTube was not on the menu and the app was in guided access; no scrolling of credits or watching the same cartoon bit over and over and over). They still have access at home and during technology times in the classroom. I have found that the kids are less engaged on a personal level and harder to get excited about the games and activities we do. A balloon flying around the room used to be amazing for many of them; now, not so much. I use my laptop for a couple of social skill groups, and I have two that will give me some AAC comments when Taylor Swift is up, but I just don’t use it otherwise. As a side comment, I had one extreme case of little guy we were trying to use an Accent with–he put his head thru 4 screens (yes, protector and keyguard), because he couldn’t do anything but access WFL. He has a book now.

    1. Kim Lewis

      Great examples! Your one little guy sounds TOUGH. Kim

  3. Brynn

    I’ve been given iPads at work, and have felt a little guilty about not embracing them wholeheartedly. Occasionally I’ll use some apps. I use the video camera for recording speech samples, having older students analyze their own speech, or video self-modeling. For the most part, I shy away from screens in therapy because, like you said so well, kids tend to focus on the screen, and that doesn’t lead to carryover of real communication with real, live people. Thanks for the post!

    1. Kim Lewis

      No need to feel guilty! If they gave you something that was more clearly not helpful—hard hats, for example—you wouldn’t try to incorporate it just because you had it available 😂 Kim

  4. Christine W Sibona

    I’m an old timer and only used my iPad a bit (mostly as a reward) but in the last couple of years have again returned to no app sessions. I never liked the idea to introduce another social distraction (where’s the social engagement with apps in general?) and, I never liked the idea that the tough work we do could be replaced by something less dynamic.

    1. Kim Lewis

      I hear you! Although it’s hard to imagine we’re replaceable. Isn’t the core of communication the people? I hope so! Kim

  5. Kim Adams

    As someone who likes contact with kids I haven’t used many apps that really suit my purposes . I find it mostly useful for my hard of hearing kids to practise listening for emergency sounds – my ee-or just doesn’t cut it. I also find it more useful for assessment these days.

    1. Kim Lewis

      Thanks for the reminder that there are some good assessment options available and since that’s a one off type thing, might still suit. Kim

  6. Patty Boyd

    I work with high schoolers and they NEED to be away from screens of any type. We just had a discussion about how they “hang out” with their friends playing video games online. I asked them if that was the same as being with friends in person and one student said, “like we are in here (speech)?” To which both students replied that it isn’t the same at all and that they like being with their friends more when it is face-to-face. Apps are great, but there is no replacing genuine conversation that happens without screens.

  7. Sara Campbell

    For the most part I agree with all of your points. Two exceptions for me: For a few kids I like to use the language apps that include recording the child’s response which they then immediately play back. I get a big reaction and fun mutual referencing when he/she hears his own sentence that tells the animal what to do. Secondly, I do use some 2-3 minute video shorts (from Anna Vagin) for social learning and story retell goals.
    Most days, my iPad never comes out, but on occasion it can be useful and fun!

    1. Kim Lewis

      I love these exceptions! Thanks for sharing! Kim

  8. Rosemary Morgan

    I also agree! I do use the iPad with Articulation Station on it so as not to carry multiple tin boxes. I only have two games that are quick and steady favorites at the end of the session while I write a note to parents. However with my ASD kids, sometimes a quick song in between a work task helps motivate them.

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The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.