If you’re anything at all like me, your iPad has completely changed your life in terms of speech therapy. And checking email. And browsing Pinterest and Facebook. And shopping online. And playing mindless games before you fall asleep. And reading good books. But mostly, it has changed your speech therapy.
Seriously, friends. What did we do before we had apps? Adorable, fun, cute, engaging, never-boring, never-ending therapy materials all wrapped up into one small, LIGHT WEIGHT little package. I’ll tell you what I did: I stock-piled one of my 14 jumbo-sized Super-Duper bags with what seemed like hundreds of games, artic cards, drill books, worksheets, and arts and craft supplies and hauled it in classrooms, around schools, in and out of therapy centers, day-cares, my car, and patients’ homes. And all the extra items that didn't fit in my bag filled my trunk to the rim.
So the first day I took only my iPad to therapy, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Artic kids? I had an app (or four) for that! Fluency kids? I had an app for that! Language kids? I had lots of apps for that! Social/Pragmatic kids? Same story. Reinforcement games? I had tons of apps for that minus the 65 teeny tiny pieces that come with most board games! And the day I realized I could download the hundreds of Teachers Pay Teachers products into iBooks and use them without having to print them? Pure. Sweet. Bliss.
So for two years, I plodded along with my iPad as my trusty therapy sidekick. We did everything together. Went everywhere together. Sure, I used hard materials still, but not like before. I was pretty convinced that I’d never do another therapy session without my new aptly-named i-PAL. And why would I ever want to?
Then one day, a few weeks before Christmas break, right about the time everything was starting to get good and chaotic, the unthinkable happened. I accidentally forgot to charge the iPad the night before, and the battery died. Died! I stared at the ugly little red battery indicator for a few seconds before it all went black. What was I going to do? I had come to rely on all the perfect little apps to basically handle my therapy planning for me. The kids all knew what to do, and they loved it too. They were always engaged with the iPad. And my jumbo-sized Super Duper bag had long since retired to the bottomless pit of my therapy closet. I had a patient to see in 5 minutes, so I had to think fast.
“Where’s your iPad?” the kid asked. “I’m sorry. The battery died. I don’t have it today,” I replied, fully expecting a meltdown to quickly ensue. “Ok, so what are we doing then?” he asked calmly. “We’re going to look at each other and talk a lot,” I told him.
And for the next 30 minutes, we talked a ton. We played an actual board game. We used concrete artic cards. We read an actual book where we had to actually turn the pages instead of swipe the pages. We sorted tangible objects. We pretended to cook food and feed dolls. We shared some major eye contact. We had a blast.
By the end of the first day without my i-Pal, I was exhausted! I literally sounded hoarse from all the extra talking I had done that day! (Mostly explaining where the iPad was). This is not to say I didn't talk to my kiddos when I used my iPad. But talking over a game or app is not always as effective. The kids don’t have to look at you when they’re on the iPad, so they miss out on your facial expressions, body language, and even your tone of voice. Even more so, holding a physical object in hand can appeal to many different senses, as opposed to the iPad only appealing to sight and sound. (I.e. my student could feel the textures of the play food as he categorized it into fruits and vegetables, instead of just seeing a picture of the fruit and hearing an applause when he sorted correctly.) As I reflected back on that day of therapy, I felt sure that some of my kids had actually noticed me that day. That they had thought of me more as a therapist or even as a friend, instead of just a lady who sat in the room next to them while they did their work, throwing out words and phrases while they were playing and making sure they didn't exit out of the educational game to play Plants vs. Zombies.
So the result? I decided to allow my trusted-but-no-longer-needed i-Pal to stay dead for the rest of the week. It forced me to be imaginative in my therapy planning once again and to get out of the technological rut that had besieged my creativity. To my astonishment, the kids were fine with it. (Although I did actually have to show a few of them that the iPad was really dead for them to believe me!)
And now that the New Year is upon us, my i-Pal has a place in my therapy once again: In the last 5 minutes before the kids leave. Provided they spent the first 25 minutes actively engaged with me.