The way to better speech and language therapy provision in special schools
My son, Oliver, had a language delay due to glue ear – he could speak only twenty-five words (mostly made up ones) at the age of three and a half. He had no imaginative play, couldn’t draw, liked to line his toys up and had very bad temper tantrums. After two sets of grommets and three blocks of intensive NHS speech therapy, plus lots of private speech therapy, his speech and his language ability improved. Thankfully, he has continued to develop typically and is now almost ten years old.
We had similar issues with Eddie who is two years younger than Oliver. Unlike Oliver, though, Eddie seemed very content and quiet, and to have little desire to communicate. At two and a half years old he was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and started attending a special school in Islington.
Bizarrely, we found it much more difficult to obtain appropriate speech and language therapy for Eddie than we had for Oliver. Due to a lack of resources and a shortage of speech therapists, Eddie’s school struggled to provide anywhere near the amount of input he required. What’s more, as speech and language therapists (SLTs) tend to be employed by the Health Department, rather than the Education Authority, their deployment was beyond the school’s control. Finding external help for an autistic child was also more difficult as it’s vital that the SLT has autism-specific experience.
I now run a business selling toys and resources for children with special educational needs. I speak to many parents and am continually amazed at the inadequate provision, or even complete lack, of speech and language therapy in some areas of the country.
It has been proven time and again that children with language or communication disorders benefit from early intervention; for children with ASDs these are core difficulties which should be at the heart of any programme or curriculum that is supposed to be meeting their needs.
The school that Eddie attends has been very innovative in trying to overcome its resource problems in order to increase the amount of speech and language therapy its pupils receive. It has recently piloted a project which involved replacing teaching assistants, in some classrooms, with speech and language therapy assistants. These SLT assistants are intensively trained specifically in the implementation of classroom-based communication programmes. The Islington SLT teams support and develop their skills on an on-going basis; they work a longer than average day, and during the school holidays, to continue their training and plan for future programmes. They produce their own resources for programmes and write up progress records; they are also able to provide parents with details of the work they are carrying out and make suggestions for home as well.
Now, instead of just one day with an SLT, Eddie has speech therapy for two and a half days a week, and there is no doubt that he and his class mates are benefiting from this regime. They have more, and better focused, speech and language based activities in class. Communication between the classroom team and the home has improved greatly, so, on a daily basis, parents can see what areas the team are working on. We receive updates for Eddie’s communication book and his visual timetable promptly, and he is definitely benefiting from the increase in one to one therapy. As parents, we are very pleased, and we really hope that the school manages to raise the necessary funds to keep this pilot project going and expand it to the other classes in the school.
This is a great example of health and education collaborating to meet the needs of pupils and it’s a shame that this can’t happen everywhere and more often.
Parent Lesley Burton
Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 41: July/August 2009