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New aid for therapists

Last updated 05:00 09/04/2014
ALTERNATIVE VOICE: Social media platforms can help people with speech-language difficulties communicate without their disorder getting in the way.

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Social media is opening up a new line of communication for people with speech-language difficulties.

Ponsonby speech therapist Niki Sherriff says social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can provide a voice to users who struggle to communicate in-person.

Technology which allows face-to-face communication over the internet, such as Skype or FaceTime, is also making therapy more accessible, she says.

"I can see the potential for Twitter and blogs to allow young people who may have a stuttering disfluency to post their thoughts and feelings and their fluency isn't the first thing that people are noticing about them."

Sherriff works with clients ranging from preschoolers to adolescents and uses FaceTime for therapy sessions with clients who are unable to meet in person.

"I can see this working for kids who stutter but also for other young people who have social communication problems like autism and Asperger's," Sherriff says.

"You can do a lot of work on how much eye-contact someone is giving you, staying on topic and discussing scenarios."

Sherriff also makes use of apps designed to help people with speech-language difficulties.

Parnell speech therapist Roz Young says things have come a long way since she started in the field 40 years ago.

"Social media is great for people who stutter because they don't stutter in written communication," she says.

"Along with texting and email, it is easier for people with communication disorders to connect in those sort of ways."

She uses Skype for therapy sessions with adult clients who live outside of Auckland or who are unable to get to the Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust (START).

"There is research to show that therapy conducted via Skype can be just as good as face-to-face," she says.

"But I have reservations about that because I think it's harder to build a good relationship with someone via Skype."

Young says poor internet connections can also be a problem.

"It's great to be able to see the person but not if there's a time lapse, then it's worse. It's not my favourite means but I will certainly do it for people who really can't travel."

Speech language pathologist Dr Caroline Bowen says a large treatment study on people who have Parkinson's disease and live in remote areas is testing the effectiveness of "therapy in a suitcase".

"Once they have been assessed by a speech and language therapist they can use a small and highly portable computer for their voice and speech homework which is then sent as a sound file to their therapist for evaluation and feedback."

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People can feel isolated and despondent when they are unable to communicate with others, she says.

- Auckland City Harbour News

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