Monday 24 October 2016

Plan well ahead if a child has speech and language difficulties

In my opinion by Pamela Raftery

Published 06/04/2016 | 02:30

Pamela Raftery, Clinic Director, ARC Speech and Language Clinic.
Pamela Raftery, Clinic Director, ARC Speech and Language Clinic.

Parents who feel that their child might benefit from additional speech and language resources in their school need to plan well ahead in order to have assessment reports in to the school on time.

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Resource hours are available to children with a number of communication difficulties, including those associated with hearing impairment, verbal dyspraxia, autism-spectrum disorder and moderate-profound general learning disability.

One of the most prevalent childhood communication disorders for which resource hours are available is specific speech/language impairment (SSLI or SLI) which, despite affecting approximately one-in-15 children, remains relatively unknown to those who have no direct experience of it.

SSLI refers to situations where, for no obvious reason, a child exhibits severe difficulties mastering speech and/or language skills. The child might have receptive language difficulties, i.e. struggle to understand others or follow instructions; expressive language difficulties, i.e. struggle to put into words what they want to say; or speech difficulties, i.e. struggle to speak intelligibly so that others can readily understand them. Children with SSLI are also at higher risk for literacy difficulties.

The earliest indicator is generally that the child begins to speak later than expected. With no co-occuring learning or physical disability to explain the child's difficulty, a 'wait-and-see' approach in the early years is often advised in the belief that the child will just 'catch up'. Unfortunately, for a child with SSLI, this is not going to be the case, and delaying intervention merely serves to exacerbate the child's difficulties.

When the child does 'get going', his speech may be very unclear and difficult for others to understand, causing the child to become upset, frustrated and reluctant to engage in social interactions.

On the language side, the child may well develop 'functional' language skills, which enable him to engage in day-to-day conversational exchanges and cope with routine events but mask the presence of SLI. Yet careful consideration will reveal that language may sound 'immature' relative to the child's peer group.

Consider this simple example: Child One: "We went to the shops. Mammy got sweets. We went to the cinema. We shared the sweets out". Child Two: "First we went to the shops, where Mammy bought an enormous bag of sweets for us. Then we went to the cinema, where we shared them all out between ourselves."

There is nothing 'wrong' with Child One's sentences, but clearly Child Two would appear to be older, using more complex formulations. He's not; Child One has SLI.

When SSLI remains undiagnosed until children are well into their school years, it is sometimes referred to as a "hidden disability". People only realise that something is awry when language difficulties begin to have a significant negative impact on the child's behaviour, academic progress and educational attainments, social interactions and friendships, self-organisation and overall self-image and feelings of self-worth.

Accessing resource hours in school is a key component in helping children to manage their language difficulties. But this can be a lengthy process, requiring a formal language assessment with a qualified speech and language therapist (SLT), and then a psychological assessment with a qualified educational psychologist (to rule out the presence of any other contributory factors).

Both reports must be submitted, via the school principal, to the Department of Education by the end of February in the prior academic year.

If you suspect that your child may be showing signs of speech or language difficulty, contact an SLT for advice.

* Pamela Raftery, Clinic Director, ARC Speech and Language Clinic, Dublin 17

Irish Independent

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