Speech and Language Therapy by Angeli Degardin
Angeli Degardin is an experienced Independent Speech and Language therapist working in homes, nurseries and schools across North-West London. As well as working privately, she spent nearly fourteen years working with the NHS, her most recent post being that of Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist specialising in working with children under 5 years of age with speech and language disorders. Here she describes what a speech therapist does and what might alert you to seeking help from a speech and language therapist.
What does a speech and language therapist do? Speech and language therapists are trained to work with children or adults with a variety of communication difficulties. Within the paediatric population, this can range from infants with feeding issues, children with speech difficulties associated with cleft palate, children who stammer, children with hearing impairments and children with social communication difficulties such as those on the autistic spectrum. However, what many parents don’t realise is that there are a host of other speech and language difficulties that may be ‘hidden’ as they are more subtle. This means it may not be obvious straightaway and the signs may not relate to a particular medical diagnosis as such i.e. we may not have a specific reason as to why their communication skills are not developing at the same rate as their peers. Children with speech and language difficulties may be just as clever as their peers but present with a difficulty understanding spoken language, struggle to making sentences, have problems pronouncing certain sounds or find it hard to socialise with other children.
Why is communication important? Speech and language skills underpin everything that we do in life. Children need to be able to express themselves in order to make their needs known, to socialise and to build up friendships. Speech and language skills are also linked to the development of literacy skills in children and can affect the ability to learn at school. This is why early intervention can be vital as communication impacts on so many different aspects of a child’s life.
How to tell if your child has a speech or language need: Broad guidelines regarding what your child should be doing at various ages and stages are available from many online websites such as www.talkingpoint.org.uk and www.afasic.org.uk. However, more generally the kinds of things to look out for are:
- Speech that is hard to understand, especially after the age of 3 years. Many pronunciation errors can be normal depending on your child’s age, but speech that is very hard to follow may indicate that your child’s speech sound development is delayed or developing in an unusual pattern so it is always good to check.
- Difficulty putting words or sentences together.
- Difficulty following instructions or understanding what is said to them.
- Difficulties socialising with other children. This could be difficulties making eye contact, turn-taking, poor play skills.
- A hoarse voice, which could indicate a voice disorder also known as dysphonia.
- Stammering or stuttering e.g. repetitions of words such as m-m-m-mummy or prolongations e.g. mmmmmmmy’s turn. This is also known as dysfluency.
What about bilingual children? For bilingual children a primary speech and language difficulty would tend to show up in both languages. If not your child may be simply be experiencing a difficulty learning a second language, which is different to a primary speech and language need, the former needing extra input from a teacher whilst the latter needs the specialist intervention of a speech and language therapist. When it comes to talking to your child, use the language which is most comfortable for you. If you use a language which you are not very good at speaking then your child may not learn to speak the language very well either!
Where to get more help: If you are worried about your child, seek advice from a registered speech and language therapist. Practising speech and language therapists in the UK are registered with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists as well as The Health Care Professions Council. Many speech therapists work within the NHS and you can usually self-refer or ask your GP to refer your child. There are also more and more therapists practising independently, some of whom can be found on the website of the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice (ASLTIP) at www.helpwithtalking.com.
Remember, children develop at different rates and noticing any of the above signs does not necessarily mean that your child needs speech therapy. However, it is always best to check with a certified speech and language therapist if you have concerns as early intervention creates the best possible outcome.
Angeli Degardin is currently on maternity leave and delighted to be expecting her first baby. Her contact details are as follows:
Telephone: 07973 940864.