The objective of speech and language therapy
Speech and language therapists aim to identify and successfully treat any speech and/or language difficulty in a child's home language(s). This difficulty can manifest itself in a number of different ways. Children may know what they want to say, but be unable to produce clear speech. Alternately, children may have difficulty making sense of the language used around them, and find it hard to learn new words or to speak in sentences. Other children may have a communication problem that is part of a wider difficulty in learning.
Having a difficulty in speaking clearly or being able share your thoughts with another person can be extremely frustrating for the child, and those around him. This can lead to social isolation and behavioural difficulties. Potentially, it can also impact on a child's educational attainment, as he or she may find it difficult to participate in the full range of classroom activities.
How do speech and language therapists work?
Some speech and language therapists specialise in working with adults with communication impairment and others in working with children. Few speech and language therapists work with both client groups. Speech and language therapists also have additional practice specialisms (e.g. autism, dyspraxia or specific language impairment).
(A few speech and language therapists work in the area of accent retraining or elocution. In the main, though, if you need this kind of input try drama teaching or a professional voice coach. The Mary Ward Centre, in London, runs courses to improve the accent of non-native English speakers.)
Speech and language therapists assess a child's speech and language skills, and his overall communication, using a range of informal and formal assessment techniques.
Informal assessment consists of watching and interacting with the child in a play setting, while formal assessment involves the use of a test or set procedure to probe specific skills.
Whatever the method employed, speech and language therapists assess the child's development in five main areas:
Information from the child's parents/carers is also vital in building a picture of the child's prior experiences, development in all areas and any relevant medical information. Parents/carers can also provide information on the child's ability to communicate on a day to day basis.
Speech and language therapists use all of this information to determine if the child's level of skill in communication is at the level expected for his age or his overall ability. (In the main, overall ability is judged by the child's play skills.)
Your therapeutic options following assessment
Once the speech and language therapist has discussed the diagnosis of the child's language/speech difficulty with you then he/she will recommend a type and frequency of therapy that is determined by the diagnosis. Some of the intervention options are listed below.
It is important to note that the ongoing involvement of the parents in supporting and reinforcing the therapy recommended is essential. This helps give the child the daily practice needed for the new skill to become ingrained.
Criteria for choosing a qualified speech and language therapist
All UK speech and language therapists must have a four-year undergraduate or two-year postgraduate degree, plus a licence to practice as a speech and language therapist. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) is the sole professional body responsible for overseeing and accrediting speech and language therapist training.
It is advisable to use a speech and language therapist who is a member of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and registered with the Health Professions Council. The HPC is a regulatory body with the responsibility of protecting the public against bogus health professionals.
The Association for Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice requires all speech and language therapists listed on their database to be registered with the HPC and a member of the RCSLT.
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