UAlberta speech therapy clinic offering virtual appointments during COVID-19

The Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research has been helping clients receive crucial therapy amid in-person treatment restrictions

Amanda Anderson - 29 July 2020

Speech-language pathologists at the University of Alberta are helping stutterers receive therapy by offering appointments they can attend from the comfort of their own homes.

The Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR) has been using telehealth video technologies to reach clients in rural and outside communities for some time, but the clinic is seeing an uptick in virtual appointments amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our virtual platform promoted the continuity of therapy for clients initially seen in person who then decided to transfer to virtual care at the start of the pandemic to continue to reach their goals,” said Ashley Saunders, speech-language pathologist at ISTAR. “It also helped us to support clients to connect with us and each other to practice skills at the start of the pandemic, since they could not connect face-to-face due to the imposed social restrictions.”

Lezlie Naka’s son Kaden, 12, is one client who has already benefitted from the remote therapy.

“Kaden has had trouble with his speech from an early age,” explained Naka. “We were able to start therapy so quickly by choosing virtual appointments. If we had to wait for the COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted for in-person appointments, this would have delayed his therapy process.”

The Naka family, who currently lives in Saskatchewan, turned to ISTAR after exhausting all of the resources Kaden’s school had to offer. The severity of his stutter was starting to impact his school work and his relationships with his peers. They knew they needed to find a solution right away.

“He was made fun almost daily—they would imitate his stutter. There were moments where they would tell him to ‘just stop talking.’ He was coming home upset, discouraged and frustrated, which was starting to affect his confidence and participation in the classroom. We just knew we had to give this program a shot, even there was only a small chance of improvement.” 

After a month of seeing his therapist, Ashley, his speech has improved significantly.

“I remember moments where Kaden could barely get a sentence out,” said Naka. “Now, there really aren’t any words to describe how drastically his speech has changed. He speaks more confidently; he lets his sense of humour shine through—we could not be happier with the results.

For anyone else who might be looking to improve their speech, Saunders says their virtual appointments are available to those in rural communities who may not be able to make the trek to Edmonton or Calgary, and will still be an option even after the COVID restrictions have lifted.

“Virtual therapy allows us to access clients living in rural communities who may have less access to care than someone who is living in a major city. We have provided services to a school community for many years now, and I would estimate that almost a quarter of the clients we see are from rural communities,” said Saunders. "We will also continue to provide care for our local and urban-area patients virtually, if requested, as well."

“I would definitely recommend this program to anyone considering speech therapy,” said Naka. “This has proven to be extremely effective, just as effective as in-person therapy, and we could not be happier with the results we received—in the comfort of our own home, too! Not having to travel has definitely helped our family financially.”

For more information about ISTAR’s speech therapy sessions, including virtual and telehealth programming, visit