Utilizing Innovation in America's Most Rural Areas

As an experienced speech-language pathologist, taking bush planes to rural Alaskan villages was a standard form of transportation for me. In fact, you can add to that: ice highway truck, snow machine and all terrain vehicle.  

These unique commutes allowed invaluable exposure to Yup’ik culture and within that, traditional models of itinerant speech therapy delivery. Returning back for sessions only every other month (via bush plane, highway truck, or snow machine) prompted a strong desire and necessity for connectivity: connectivity that is best fueled by teletherapy inclusion in our student special education programs.

Teletherapy allowed me to continue working on skilled speech and language activities to progress toward student goals while simultaneously providing support to teachers living in remote villages of Alaska.

"The goal is to provide the best therapy possible for our students, and innovation is allowing us to do just that.”

Outlined below are key reasons why teletherapy proves to be an innovative and beneficial model for students and special education teams everywhere, especially in rural areas.

When multidisciplinary teams are connected, everyone wins.

Students love technology, and we discovered that educators love it too when they experience the full benefits of what it means for helping students communicate. In addition to direct services, speech-language pathologists connect with teachers, parents and support staff through online video conferencing to discuss how to best meet the needs of the student.

Here are some out-of-the-box activities that can happen in the online face-to-face delivery model:

  • Parents join Individualized Education Program meetings from anywhere.
  • Busy support staff can now conveniently participate in sessions.
  • The multidisciplinary team can pick a common time to be linked to a collaborative event.
  • Teams can easily connect with specialized clinicians (SLPs who are multilingual, proficient in sign language, augmentative and alternative communication, etc.) for consultation when needed no matter where they live.

When we eliminate the barriers of traditional models, students are more successful.

For our schools in Alaska, teletherapy ensures that students can and will still receive therapy, even if planes are not flying due to weather.

I will never forget being grounded in a rural village, unable to make it to my next school because a volcano had erupted hundreds of miles away. But, because of teletherapy, I was still able to meet with my students and teachers, ensuring progress towards student goals.

Traditional models of itinerant service in rural Alaska can yield 3-4 visits per year from the SLP. Now, students are seen twice a week or even more frequently when needed. Teachers in the most remote villages are supported and given the tools to help students perform their personal best. Ultimately, additional benefits from the teletherapy model include:  

  • Service provision based on student need, not just therapist availability.
  • Generalized carryover progression into the classroom by a teletherapy facilitator.
  • Added consistency in therapy delivery and quicker turnaround on evaluations and collaboration requests.

Remember, we are all a team (even the teletherapist).

Innovation through teletherapy allows schools to access an entire ecosystem of certified speech-language pathologists without the need of excessive commuting. Furthermore, it supplements and supports on-site therapists to ensure that the team offers the highest quality of services to provide a positive, valuable experience for all involved.

DotCom Therapists™ across the country are redefining what it means to be an extension of the special education team. We are not seeking to replace on-site therapists but to join with them, and schools everywhere, to ensure that each student has access to consistent and appropriate services that will benefit them and improve their educational success.

So, as much fun as the bush plane rides were, teletherapy offers our students more access and better access to quality therapy services, and for that, I will stay on the ground any day (while planning my next visit to Alaska, that is).


Email: Emily@DotComTherapy.com Twitter: @PurdomEmily LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emilypurdomslp/


"Providing teletherapy and learning how to successfully implement this model of service delivery in rural areas proves to be a pillar of DotCom Therapy. We always want to be hands-on founders, advocating for best practice, innovative standards and research within our areas of involvement. It is our goal that DotCom Therapy will be known for championing a higher quality of service delivery and eradicating the pervasive therapist shortage by removing barriers of accessibility.”

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published