When I was in grad school my favorite professor disliked “canned” therapy programs. But, if we could take the program and adapt it to the client’s assessment results and observations, she was quite happy. Now, as the applications and new devices are hitting the market and being marketed to special education and speech (as well as regular education), I think of her often. How do we adapt these devices and apps to integrate our special needs students into the regular education curriculum? Do we look at the apps to only meet very specific speech goals? Should we rely on the functionality of the app or should we use the app as the basis for therapy then extend to real life situations and classroom work? Isn’t the end goal of speech and language therapy in schools to have the child participate in the learning process with his/her peers to the greatest extent possible both physically and cognitively?
Let’s go back in time to pre-apps. SLPs are known for using pictures and cards as well as other materials. But, a good therapy program using cards is not for teaching only receptive picture identification. It will encompass research-based strategies using multimodality activities for higher brain functioning and cognition. A prime example would be the use of the Picture Exchange System using pictures. The student will be prompted to respond to the pictures with prompts/cues that are most effective to obtain the desired communication result. The effectiveness of the program depends on how the therapist responds with more or less cueing based on the student’s prior responses. It could be said the same of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA uses pictures that were not necessarily functional if they are taught without the appropriate cueing that therapists provide based on the student’s needs (based on assessment and observations). However, the cueing and response to the student’s responses at the many levels will train the brain to respond. The student will then progress to higher levels of communication and participation within the academic setting. The student’s IEP should include goals stating that the ABA (or whatever therapy program and strategies are used) will result in the student’s ability to participate in academic learning with his/her peers to the greatest extent possible. One of the materials that is a good example of being written for speech goals and also aligned with curriculum was Tuned in to Learning. It is based on ABA and the music therapist also aligned it ABLLS-R, Brigance, HELP, CAPA and TEKS https://www.childrenspublishing.com/TIL_Texas_PreK.pdf.
So, should apps not be looked at in the same way?
The best speech apps have specific speech goals/objectives built in as well as record keeping. This does not make the app research based because no apps have been fully researched for efficacy (although it certainly creates more ease of use for the therapist that in the end results in more time for effective therapy). Some speech app developers are beginning to include manuals and workbooks on their websites for additional extended learning and generalization. To this date I have seen only a few apps aligned with the CORE curriculum. Cyndie Sebourn of Sascyn Publishing provided a CORE curriculum alignment for Karen Robertson’s Treasure Kai, http://appswithcurriculum.com/curriculum/treasurekai/. And, what a pleasure to see her include a CORE curriculum alignment for her app, Smarty Britches: Nouns, AND within this alignment a section on modifications for special ed. This comprehensive curriculum alignment can be viewed at http://appswithcurriculum.com/curriculum/smarty-activities/.
This brings me to my next question: Would it be beneficial to speech app developers to have their apps aligned with the CORE curriculum (or state standards)? Perhaps it would help their sales and at the same time help the end users (SLPs and their students)!