With the current Covid-19 pandemic, wearing a mask has become part of our daily lives to reduce the spread of the virus and protect others around us. Allied health clinicians, including Speech and Language Pathologists, work with many clients to complete therapy where maintaining social distancing can be difficult. As a result, masks and other forms of personal protective equipment are currently being used to protect the clinicians and families who attend services.
What is the impact on therapy?
For children working on goals related to language, reading, spelling, literacy, phonological awareness, pre-verbal skills and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), the use of a mask will have minimal effect on how the therapy is completed. This is because children are not relying on facial movements and non-verbal cues to develop these skills.
The areas of therapy impacted by using a mask include those where children rely on facial expressions or where they need to observe oral musculature (e.g. mouth movements). This includes speech therapy targeting sound production, some areas of voice therapy, some areas of feeding therapy, and social skills where children are required to read facial expressions to understand and interpret social cues for daily interaction.
Completing therapy with a mask:
Since we know that masks reduce the spread of the virus, but can have an impact on therapy, we have identified ways to overcome this barrier. These include:
- Use of a clear mask or face shield (when applicable): The clear masks and face shields enable children to see the face of a clinician. This means even with the use of personal protection equipment, the children can still observe, imitate and interpret facial movements and expressions for therapy.
- Telehealth: Telehealth is the use of video conferencing to deliver therapy. The benefit of telehealth is that masks do not need to be used for this service and children will be able to view the clinician’s facial movements.
- Use of gestures and body language: Due to the loss of non-verbal facial cues from wearing a mask, we need to be creative in how we can communicate these cues. This could include an increase in the use of gestures, body language and visuals. An example would be, rather than smiling to reinforce a child doing a task correctly, we could use a thumbs up.
- Parent training: Parent training is overall an essential part of speech pathology services as identified by research, enabling the parents to implement the therapy tasks at home for optimal therapy gains. This can also be used within the session, where the parent can provide models to the child without a mask with specific directions from their clinician.
If therapy with a mask impacts your child’s therapy, your clinician will discuss alternative options with you to ensure therapy can continue. Our goal is to ensure your child’s therapy is progressing well, and we will continue to evaluate and implement new strategies to ensure therapy gains.