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Living abroad can be lots of fun but when you’re an expatriate struggling to find the right English-speaking speech therapist for your child then it starts to become less exciting!

Even if you’re lucky enough to find a therapist near you who has some availability – and in the Lake Geneva region that doesn’t happen very often - the chances are that their accent will not match that of your child and you will not see the progress you are hoping for.

So is there a solution? Swiss-American, Birgit Suess, believes she has found the answer with her teletherapy business, Sweet Sunshine Speech Therapy, which she launched online around 10 years ago.

Using video software such as Skype, Gotomeeting or Zoom, Sweet Sunshine Speech Therapy enables children to meet with speech therapists in a safe environment online. Children can see and hear their therapist on-screen and share their mouse/keyboard controls so that they can fully participate in therapy activities. Teletherapy follows all the same ethical and professional guidelines as on-site therapy. Privacy is of the utmost importance so all communication, documents and sessions are kept confidential.

With no geographic limits on her network of therapists, Birgit is able to match therapists with the specific needs of her clients – most of whom are aged between 3 and 21.  All of her speech therapists are native English speakers, nationally certified by their country of origin, and trained in accommodating for various English accents and dialects, as well as cultural differences.  Birgit told us, “If you’ve ever had a child go through speech therapy, you will appreciate just how important it is to limit any dialectal differences between the therapist and your child!"

How did Birgit get into the teletherapy business?

Fluent in English, Swiss-German and German, Birgit spent time her childhood living in the US and Switzerland, and attended an international school in Zurich as a young child as well as a Swiss public school as a teenager. So she knows what it’s like for an English-speaking child to be educated in both English and French in Switzerland.

She told knowitall.ch, “I completed my Masters of Science degree in Clinical Speech Pathology in 2001 from Northern Arizona University, and currently hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech and Hearing Association (M.S., CCC-SLP). I started my career working for schools in rural areas with huge caseloads and spent quite a bit of time driving on unpaved, steep mountain roads. One snowy day, our office IT guy suggested I try using Skype (which had just recently come out) to meet with a distant student, and I said yes! It worked really well and an idea was born. I’ve been working in private practice with students and families via teletherapy for about 10 years now.”

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What makes Sweet Sunshine Therapy so unique in Switzerland?

According to Birgit, Teletherapy is a relatively new concept in Switzerland so most speech therapists have their own on-site clinics - if you are lucky, you might find one who will provide home visits. Given the shortage of therapists in this region, the option to conduct therapy sessions over the computer, no matter where you live, has to be a huge benefit to parents. What is more, there is no hassle of driving, finding parking, or keeping your other children occupied (often in a waiting room) while you wait for the session to end. With access to speech therapists all over the world, Sweet Sunshine Speech Therapy can find fun, motivational therapists that provide the best fit for your family as well as your child and, most importantly, who can probably start right away!

How does it work?

The first step is a free 30-minute consultation. You will be asked about your child and your child’s Developmental and Speech and Language History. Has your child already been diagnosed with a Speech or Language Disorder, is your child currently receiving services through a school or private clinic, what goals are they currently working on and most importantly, what concerns do you have? If more information is needed about your child’s current Speech and Language abilities, a comprehensive Speech and Language Evaluation may be recommended.

Next, you will be paired with a speech and language therapist whose expertise best fits your child’s needs. Your therapist will contact you to set up a therapy schedule and give you directions on how to meet in her Therapy “Room”. Your first session will consist of meeting the therapist and setting up appropriate goals for your child to work towards. Once the goals have been established, therapy can then start at a time which suits you!

Birgit added, “We simply ask that your child has a quiet place to participate in therapy sessions; it can be in their bedroom, the dining room or kitchen table, the living room floor, or wherever they are comfortable and not distracted. Parents are welcome to participate as much or as little as they like in therapy sessions. We totally understand if parents are busy with other children, making dinner or just need a moment of respite! Most children are able to participate in speech therapy sessions independently, and many of them are better at navigating the computer than their parents. For parents who do wish to participate, it’s a great opportunity to be trained by our therapists on how to best support your child throughout the day.”

Client recommendation

If you're still not sure of making the move to teletherapy, this is what one client told knowitall.ch about their experience of using Birgit’s services.  “I'd like to recommend Sweet Sunshine Speech Therapy. As an English-speaking family in the Valais, we couldn't find a speech therapist locally. Using teletherapy is great because we can meet with our therapist any time over the computer. We have been working with Sweet Sunshine Speech Therapy for 3 years, and the benefits have been wonderful.”

Given how new the concept of teletherapy is in Switzerland, it is not widely recognized by Swiss insurance companies at the moment. However, Sweet Sunshine Speech Therapy adheres stricly to the rules and regulations required by the American Speech and Hearing Association so, if insurance is not an issue for you, then you can rest assured that the treatment your child receives will conform to the highest standards.

Sweet Sunshine Speech Therapy
Birgit Suess M.S., CCC-SLP
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