Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass to approach 300 school districts to combat shortage of special ed. therapists

By Collegian News Staff

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According to a press release, several speech and language researchers at the University of Massachusetts will be approaching about 300 school districts in the state this fall in an aim to combat a growing shortage of special education therapists and help provide for the needs of special needs children across the country.

In a concept known as telepractice, these researchers are planning to bring therapy to children and their families in the comfort of their own schools via a live teleconference over the Web, according to the release.

According to the release, Mary Andrianopolous, associate professor of communication disorders, along with other doctoral candidates at the UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences, are teaming up with Cisco Systems to provide the service. The service is expected to begin during the 2012-13 school year, after qualifying school districts meet certain standards, such as having access to high-speed Internet and being able to provide basic computing equipment.

“When people see that their state university is offering this type of service, we hope school districts will want to get a piece of that,” said Andrianopoulos in the release.

“Getting trained in telepractice and being involved in the cutting edge speech and language pathology research, treatment and intervention is one aspect of our communication disorders program,” added Andrianopoulos in regards to the growing benefits of UMass students who are majoring in speech language pathology.

Telepractice, a relatively new practice and also known as telemedicine, is a tool used to help doctors improve therapy access for special needs children in real-time, according to communication disorders doctoral candidate Michelle Boisvert, and is instrumental in providing assistance for those with neurodevelopment disabilities.

“Once the clinician, child and family have established a personal connection via telepractice, ongoing therapy sessions allow for more consistent services and evidence-based practice as well as a reduction in travel time for everyone,” said Boisvert in the release. “Students achieve comparable progress through telepractice as they do when a session is conducted face-to-face.”

— Collegian News Staff

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