Delivering virtual speech language pathology to school children in the Western Downs

Mrs Ruth Taylor1, A/Prof Anthony Smith2, Dr Liam Caffery3, Dr Danette Langbecker4

 

1 University of Queensland, Centre for Online Health, Ground floor, Building 33, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Ipswich Road, Woolloongabba, 4102. r.saunders4@uq.edu.au

2 University of Queensland, Centre for Online Health, Ground floor, Building 33, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Ipswich Road, Woolloongabba, 4102. asmith@uq.edu.au

3 University of Queensland, Centre for Online Health, Ground floor, Building 33, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Ipswich Road, Woolloongabba, 4102. l.caffery@uq.edu.au

4 University of Queensland, Centre for Online Health, Ground floor, Building 33, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Ipswich Road, Woolloongabba, 4102

 

How does a speech pathologist support a rural child without ever setting foot in their town? Families throughout the Western Downs in Queensland are finding out through a project introduced by the University of Queensland (UQ). In the latest development of the UQ Health-e-Regions program, five schools have been connected by videoconference to health professionals in Brisbane. Through the Health-e-Regions experience program, supported by natural gas company QGC, children living in the Western Downs who require speech language pathology (SLP), may now access these specialist services without leaving the familiar surroundings of their school.

The program was piloted last year with the Tara Shire State College and is now being implemented into a further four schools in Tara, Chinchilla, Miles and Wandoan. A collaborative effort between the Department of Education and Training (DET), Diocese of Toowoomba: Catholic Schools Office (TCSO), UQ’s Centre for Online Health and UQ’s Tele-Rehabilitation Unit, the program is also piloting occupational therapy via Telehealth.

The Health-e-Regions telehealth program is designed to complement the SLP services already provided to students from DET and TCSO. School children are selected for the program based upon need and assessments conducted by the teachers and DET/TCSO speech language pathologists. Third and fourth year students from UQ, supervised by a clinical educator, provide the service from Brisbane as part of their clinical rotation. The school students receive weekly sessions ‘virtually’ using an iPad and specialised software which enables interaction in other ways such as drawing on the screen and manipulating digital images used during the therapy session.

When a child’s speech and language development is delayed and they cannot be understood during a conversation, they may become reluctant to speak and resort to communicating in other ways.  This can include disruptive behaviour, withdrawal or poor participation in class. Some children simply don’t have the vocabulary needed to learn.

In the context of a busy school and classroom environment, students benefit from individual learning opportunities and support.  The telehealth program with its motivating and interactive learning platform allows positive individualised learning experiences, and an opportunity to make a real difference for students.

A further advantage for the school is the ability to develop teacher capacity. Teaching staff are also receiving support and professional development sessions to increase their knowledge and skills, which are then translatable in the classroom.

As the sessions are delivered by SLP students, they too are increasing knowledge and skills that will soon be translated into the workforce when they graduate in the future with additional experience in alternative health delivery methods.

The program will allow schools to expand the services available and to better cater for the needs of the students. It is hoped that the positive experiences associated with the telehealth program already may be shared with other schools throughout the country where access to specialist services are limited.