By Avivit Ben-Aharon, Founder & Clinical Director, Great Speech
For about 3 million Americans, trying to communicate feels much like being caught in a traffic jam. But instead of trucks and cars causing the disruption, verbal pauses, repetitions and other frustrations get in the way of being able to communicate effectively.
These issues are often the root causes of stuttering, a condition that refers to disruptions in the normal flow of speech. It’s a frustrating experience, as it stops people from communicating effectively and can lead to a variety of challenges that impact a person’s ability to interact with others and the world around them.
Technology Meets Speech Therapy
In some instances, physical availability and access to speech therapy services may prevent individuals from seeking help. Overall access to healthcare is a known, significant challenge for residents of rural areas in Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, rural residents in Tennessee face higher rates of preventable health conditions and have less access to healthcare services than urban residents living in the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Memphis or Knoxville areas.
This can result from a range of factors, including a shortage of healthcare providers in rural areas, limited transportation options and the high cost of healthcare services. Access to speech therapy services can be particularly challenging for individuals who live in the rural Appalachian, Cumberland, Highland Rim or Delta areas of the state. Several initiatives are using mobile health clinics to provide basic healthcare services to residents in these areas, but virtual care remains an attractive and accessible option, particularly for services like speech therapy.
That’s why virtual speech therapy -- from anywhere with an internet connection -- is so appealing for children and adults who live in rural or remote areas or who may have difficulty traveling to in-person appointments. This is especially helpful for older adults, who may also have mobility issues or for those who have concerns regarding exposure to viruses. Studies have shown that virtual speech therapy can also be just as effective as in-person sessions.
Provided through a laptop or tablet, virtual speech therapy essentially brings the therapist into an individual’s home, where they typically feel more comfortable. This offers a more private and controlled environment, which allows individuals to relax, reduce any anxiety and avoid any stigma they can feel in seeking help. Individuals who stutter often are uncomfortable speaking in public or in front of others, and virtual speech therapy services avoid clinical check-ins or the need to engage in public conversation.
Just as with traditional speech therapy services, virtual speech therapists monitor and track progress over time. This can help ensure that progress is maintained and that individuals continue to make improvements in their speech. Today, help is available for anyone in Tennessee (and throughout the U.S.) seeking to address stuttering or any other communication challenges.
Stuttering can also include unusual facial and body movements that are the result of individuals exerting an extra effort to speak. Sometimes, individuals who stutter may experience physical tension or struggle with certain sounds or words.
Stuttering can vary in severity and may be more noticeable in certain situations, such as when someone is nervous or under stress, though the actual cause of stuttering is typically a complex combination of genetic, neurological, developmental, and environmental factors.
Research shows that stuttering affects males at almost four times the rate of females. About one percent of children will experience a period of stuttering that last six months or more – about 75% of children will lose their stutter, though early intervention efforts can assist those who continue to have difficulties.
In the state of Tennessee, public school children can access the services of school-provided speech-language pathologists (SLP), but these services and access are often limited due to large caseloads, according to a 2022 report by the Tennessee Department of Education.
According to the National Stuttering Foundation, there is no connection between stuttering and intelligence or the perception that stuttering has psychological or emotional root causes. These are common misconceptions that further stigmatize individuals with stutters.
How Speech Therapy Can Help
Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists (SLPs), are trained professionals who specialize in evaluating and treating speech and language disorders, including stuttering. Many health care plans include speech therapy as a covered service, and it is typically obtained through a clinical or healthcare setting.
Speech therapists will begin by assessing a stuttering individual to gain a thorough sense of what may be causing the condition and what strategies would best help. Individual goals and objectives will be considered, and the speech therapist will develop a treatment plan that can include a variety of strategies, including:
- Education and counseling: Speech therapists can provide education and counseling to individuals who stutter and their families. This can increase their understanding of the nature of stuttering and engage in coping strategies for better daily management of the condition.
- Identification of triggers and teaching techniques: Speech therapists can identify the triggers that can exacerbate stuttering and teach specific techniques to improve communication fluency, such as breathing exercises, pausing, or slowing down speech.
- Positive feedback and reinforcement: Speech therapists can help individuals recognize their progress. This helps build confidence in their communication abilities.
- Establishment of communication goals: Speech therapists can work with individuals who stutter to develop communication goals, such as improving fluency, increasing confidence, or enhancing social communication skills.
Avivit Ben-Aharon, MS ED., MA CCC SLP is the Founder and Clinical Director at Great Speech, Inc, a virtual speech therapy company founded in 2014. She is recognized as a trail blazer for nationwide virtual access to speech therapy, allowing anyone who is committed to improving their communication to receive expert services, regardless of location or scheduling limitations. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America, US News and World Report, Miami Herald and more. She holds an undergraduate and a Master of Arts degree in Speech-Language Pathology from The City University of New York. She earned a Master of Science in Special Education and Teaching from Hunter College. Connect with her on LinkedIn or via email: email@example.com.
Great Speech Inc. is the recognized leader in virtual speech therapy, and since 2014 has delivered convenient, specialized services to clients anytime, anywhere. Its innovative approach leverages technology to match credentialed therapists with children, adults and seniors who need and seek better speech communication. Proud winner of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) 2023 Innovators Challenge for In-Patient Care Solutions and recipient of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification. www.greatspeech.com