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Monday, September 28, 2020

Interview with Leanne Sherred, Expressable, Online Speech Therapy. Innovators in E-Learning Series.

Speech therapy has long been associated with improved skills in reading and writing. Further, speech therapy helps students develop self-confidence and stop being bullied. However, speech therapy has often been difficult to obtain for a number of reasons. Now, speech therapy can be conducted online. Welcome to an interview with Leanne Sherred, co-founder of Expressable, an online speech therapy provider. 

1.  What is your name and your background?

Hi! I’m Leanne Sherred, M.S., CCC-SLP, and I’m a speech-language pathologist. I grew up with a knack for doing cartoon voices and accents as a way to entertain my family and, oddly enough, this silliness helped me develop an ear for the voices and speech of others. It only took one class in college on the fundamentals of speech and language to become hooked. I quickly realized that communication is one of the most innate and fundamental human characteristics, and soon afterwards I decided to become a speech therapist.

I studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained my Master's in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Throughout my career, I practiced speech therapy in a variety of settings, including pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health.

However, overtime I became frustrated by the traditional speech therapy model of care. I thought there had to be a better way. So me, my husband, our goofy dog Kylo, and a few colleagues set out to create Expressable, an online speech therapy provider. 

 Leanne Sherred, M.S., CCC-SLP

2.  How did you become interested in e-learning / e-knowledge transfer?

I became interested in e-learning and teletherapy because of its potential to make instruction and opportunity more accessible. I say this with a big caveat, of course; there are still too many families in this country without reliable internet access or a modern, internet-connected device. While we still have a lot of work to do, I think online learning ultimately has the potential to be a great equalizer by removing many financial barriers and geographic limitations.

Take speech therapy, for example. As an online provider, we don’t have to pay many of the costs typically associated with running a traditional practice (i.e., expensive rent, overhead, administrative costs, etc). This allows us to pass these cost savings down to families, so they can receive the same quality of care at a fraction of the price.. 

3. What are your core beliefs and philosophies with respect to assistive technology?

I strongly advocate for using any type of tool that can help children and students with learning differences develop academically, socially, or emotionally. Ultimately these tools help children capitalize on their strengths in order to navigate or work around their challenges. Yet, I do think assistive technologies should be just that - assistive - and not necessarily used as a replacement for parents, teachers, mentors, and administrators. 

This is particularly relevant in speech therapy. Interactive tools and apps have their role in improving speech and language skills. However, it’s ultimately the day-to-day reinforcement of speech therapy cues, strategies, and best practices that will make the biggest difference in a child’s life. 

4.  What do you see as the relationship between true learning / skills transfer and different types of assistive technologies?

Skills transfer is our ultimate goal. Whether we do speech therapy in a clinic, hospital, house, or over a video session, there is always a difference between performance and learning. Our job isn’t truly complete until a client is able to generalize their skills to other settings outside of the “speech therapy session.”

Assistive technologies for a speech therapist can refer to different modalities of communicating. For instance, an individual with a motor disorder or autism spectrum disorder might utilize a speech-generating device to communicate their thoughts. Others might use a simpler picture-based system.

At Expressable, we leverage technology to achieve an access point to services that more people can reasonably achieve. The video session itself is held to the same principle that sessions in a clinic would be - the skill isn’t mastered until the client has generalized across all environments. 

5.  What is Expressable?  What was the inspiration behind it?

Expressable is an online speech therapy provider. We started Expressable with a mission to make speech therapy more affordable, convenient, and accessible for everyone. 

There were so many reasons that inspired me to start Expressable. While I absolutely love helping children and families reach their communication goals, working in traditional speech therapy settings for much of my career was disheartening. There were so many obstacles that detracted me from providing quality services. 

For one, many families I was serving were being issued denials by their insurance companies for speech therapy. What’s worse, paying the exorbitant out-of-pocket costs of private therapy is unattainable for many families, and watching them make personal and financial sacrifices was particularly heartbreaking. 

Second, while well-funded schools may offer quality speech therapy on site, many lack the staff and resources to provide adequate services tailored to the needs of each child. Additionally, while children make more progress towards their goals when parents are actively involved, speech therapy delivered in a clinic or school-based setting can limit quality face-to-face time with parents. 

And lastly was geographic access. Families benefit when they work with a speech therapist that’s specialized to their needs. However, selection of speech therapists in rural or remote areas can either be limited, non-existent, or require long commute times (which is frustrating for just about everyone!).

By providing online speech therapy, we’re able to reach more people, lower the point of access, and break down geographic barriers. Best of all, teletherapy makes it easy for parents to attend sessions alongside their child, at a time most convenient for their family, so they can stay in sync with their therapist and promote communication-building skills at home throughout their child’s daily life. 

6.  Please discuss how Expressable works.

It’s really simple! It starts by signing up for a free consultation on our website with a licensed speech therapist. During this call, we work to better understand your needs, communication goals, and answer any questions about Expressable.

If you decide that Expressable is a good fit, we’ll match you with a speech therapist based on your needs, availability, location, and preferences. After that, you simply schedule recurring sessions on a day and time that works best for your family (evenings and weekends included). 

All sessions are delivered online using our HIPAA-compliant video platform (think Zoom or FaceTime, but on the other end is a speech therapist). If you ever have any questions, your therapist is available anytime via secure texting. And finally, our therapists focus on “teaching” children just as much as “coaching” parents, arming them with knowledge and exercises so they can incorporate lessons learned during the sessions at home. 

7.  Please share a few success stories.

Speech therapists are constantly tracking data to meet incremental goals - so every goal met is a success! If we see a client all the way through to the point of dismissal, that’s amazing because it means they’ve met age-appropriate level, functional level, or their own personal goals.

Some goals are more hard-fought. Building communication skills can take time and dedication. Those victories can be some of the sweetest! A few of my favorite clients have been families that get to be the main driver of a child’s first words. Whether it happens during the session or during the week with the parents reporting back - the excitement and joy is always palpable, and we share all of it with them! 

A child on the autism spectrum who engages for a minute more than they previously had, a 10 year-old who now speaks in class without apprehension of being teased for her R sound, an adult who gives a presentation at work without stuttering - I’m lucky enough to say I’ve had many, many success stories! The motivation of our clients and families is always what impresses me the most.

8.  What are two books that you would like to recommend to our readers.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

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