Talking therapy

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How dedicated therapy and support are helping my granddaughter overcome a reluctance to speak

When my granddaughter started nursery, aged 27 months, we hoped that it would encourage her to talk, as at that stage her only words had been “yes” and “no”. The nursery staff did their best but without success, so her parents took her to a talking toddlers group, hoping that this would do the trick. After several months, the other children were making progress, but not so my granddaughter.

At the age of three, she transferred to the local nursery/infant school, still unable to say more than half a dozen words, but otherwise a bright, lively and sociable child. She enjoyed nursery school and seemed to be popular, despite only being able to communicate by gestures and repeated “uh, uh” sounds.

A speech and language therapist came to the school on a regular basis to work with her, and this helped to some degree, but she was still only able to add one or two words to her spoken vocabulary.

Aged four, my granddaughter was referred to a neurologist who thought she might have Worster-Drought syndrome, a rare condition in which the part of the brain controlling the muscles involved in speech has not developed properly. The neurologist suggested an MRI scan in order to make a formal diagnosis, but since there is no treatment for the condition, her parents decided against putting her through the ordeal of a scan.

Three months later, my granddaughter was fortunate enough to be referred to an early years language centre in Sheffield, where she was described for the first time as having a specific speech and language impairment.

There are many reasons why children who appear to have average or above average intelligence levels, and whose development is otherwise age appropriate, may have such an impairment. At the centre, a team of two specialist teachers and two speech and language therapists spend four half-days per week working with a maximum number of eight children between the ages of three and five, for a term of eleven weeks. The team direct the children in games and activities based around communication, using spoken language, Makaton signing and sheets of Rebus symbols.

The games and activities are varied and imaginative, intended to teach the children how to behave in various social settings as well as to encourage communication. These include role play in the improvised settings of, for example, a hairdressing salon, a hospital, a kitchen or a building site. There are books, puzzles, sand and water play areas, dressing-up costumes and puppets. There are also parent sessions where staff discuss the children’s progress with parents and suggest ways in which the children can be encouraged to develop.

Initially, many of the children are reluctant to attempt speaking because they are used to being surrounded by their more articulate peers, but in a nurturing and non-competitive atmosphere, where all the children are at a similar level, their confidence grows. Also, unlike mainstream school or nursery, where children are expected to be quiet for much of the time, they are positively encouraged to chatter as much as possible.

My granddaughter had seemed reluctant to try new words before attending the centre, but she soon began attempting new sounds, and her vocabulary gradually increased to over 60 words. She also started linking two words together, for example “I like” and “no more”.
She will be five in October and will move on to full-time school in September, but the staff at the centre will continue to keep in touch. They have arranged for various support systems to be put in place for her at school, and her communication book will be an invaluable aid, as will her continuing speech and language therapy sessions.

The experience of my granddaughter shows just how much can be achieved with the right diagnosis and the right therapy. It is our hope that the significant boost she has received from such dedicated support will continue to help her progress throughout her schooling.

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