How Does Technology Fit Into Speech Therapy? 4 Evidence-Based Studies to Guide Us


Speech and language pathologists now wade in a digital sea filled with resources that supply contexts for clinical interventions. On the one hand, it is great to have so many choices. However, clinicians may struggle with evaluating these possibilities and aligning them with best practices and research in our field. Below is a glance at the accumulated evidence that speaks to the integration of technology in speech therapy.

Looking Back at the Literature

Though the use of technology is a hot-button topic in our field, SLPs and those in related services disciplines will find our supporting literature to be relatively quiet in providing guidance. However, a number of peer-reviewed articles from the 1990s and 2000s deliver advice that is even more applicable today, given the ease of use of mobile computing devices such as the iPad.

Why Clinicians Weren’t Using Tech

Cochran and Masterson (1995), in their article “NOT Using a Computer in Language Intervention: In Defense of the Reluctant Clinician”, cited a number of factors why clinicians were avoiding technology use in intervention:

  • Limited access to computer resources
  • Lack of training
  • Concern that students will be intimidated by the computer
  • Worry over the amount of time necessary to teach students to use the computer
  • Doubts regarding the efficacy of computer activities

More than twenty years later, some of these concerns are still applicable (depending on the technology used) while others have been mitigated by the availability of low-cost, easy-to-use tablets and apps.

A Supportive View

In no small part, the use of technology resources are supported within a “paradigm shift” (Coufal, 2002) toward social interactionist models of therapy as opposed to drill-and-practice. Westby (2002), a leader in emphasizing discourse in intervention, emphasizes the Vygotskian principle of using activities within students’ Zone of Proximal Development: “the individuals who are more knowledgeable about the topic to be learned carefully scaffold the mediated instruction so that it is within the range in which children can perform the task with assistance, but not independently.”

On Software Outside the Realm of Speech and Language Therapy

The literature has supported using software that was not designed for speech and language therapy but contains contexts related to educational and life settings (Lieberth & Martin, 1995). The emphasis here has been on applications with elements allowing students to explore and make choices via simple interfaces and content that mirrors relevant situations in students’ lives (Nelson & Masterson, 1999).

Emphasizing Interaction

The kinds of apps often cited as potentially applicable to speech and language therapy have interactive interfaces; Westby (2002) emphasizes that software with a simulation element can be used as a context for developing higher-level discourse and language organization skills.

Bringing the Past into the Future

These four brief glimpses at the evidence discussed in the ’90s and ’00s provide us a base of knowledge to explore bringing speech apps into therapy. Many current apps take these studies into account, offering engaging and relatable content that can be targeted to specific clinical objectives and paced to match a patient’s progress.

Looking for more advice on integrating technology into your therapy? My course on Therapeutic Technology Use in Language Intervention for School-Age Clients can simplify digitizing therapy decisions if you work in a pediatric setting.

  1. Cochran, P.S., & Masterson, J. J. (1995). NOT using a computer in language intervention: In defense of the reluctant clinician. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools. 26, 213-222.
  2. Coufal, K.L. (2002). Technology teaching or mediated learning, part I: are computers Skinnerian or Vygotskian? Topics in Language Disorders. 22, 1-28.
  3. Lieberth, A.K., & Martin, D.G. (1995). Authoring and hypermedia. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools. 26, 241-250.
  4. Nelson, L. K., & Masterson, J. J. (1999). Computer technology: Creative interfaces in service delivery. Topics in Language Disorders. 19(30), 68–86.
  5. Westby, C (2002). Computers, culture, and learning. Topics in Language Disorders. 22, 70-87.