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Speech and Language Therapy

Many parents whose children attend the Champion Centre for Early Intervention are concerned with how their child comes to understand the language (or languages) around them, how they become able to use the language(s) and how clearly they are able to pronounce their words. These are all legitimate concerns. Answers to these concerns are, however, all connected, and this statement is designed to help parents understand how we see speech and language therapy at the Champion Centre, and how we work with parents to help them help their children in the most appropriate way.

The big picture is that there is only one way to become a speaker of any language: through

meaningful exchanges with meaningful people on meaningful topics over an extended period of time.

If we unpack this statement a little, we can see that it means that working on language and speech cannot be isolated from meaningful activities; that it needs to include you (the most meaningful people in your child’s life), and that it doesn’t happen quickly. Speech and language is not like learning to roll a ball or ride a bike; something that can be practiced as an isolated skill. It is much more like learning to play a duet or dance a waltz: while solo practice is useful, it does not become a duet or a dance until you do it with others.

Parents and other caregivers are a child’s greatest assets by being their most effective communication partners (not the speech language therapists). Family members and friends are the ones who give children the incentive, the desire and the motivation to reach out and communicate. It is they who attach meaning to children’s efforts, affirm them for their attempts, and can invest in their development every minute of every day.

At the Champion Centre we recognise various broad stages of speech and language development supported by a wide range of research. In the baby programmes, the focus is on comprehension of language, on learning the give-and-take of meaningful interaction with another, learning to share the world with another, and beginning to speak. To support this stage, Champion Centre speech and language therapists monitor the development of each child’s language carefully; suggest and demonstrate activities to increase the interactive value of the time parents spend with their child; and provide the opportunity for using some signs and gestures as a way of expressing what cannot yet be said. These goals are supported by the other therapists in the team as they, too, support communication and interaction in their work with each child.

By the time children enter the middle years programmes, parents are skilled at communicating with their child, and have as a result, cemented a healthy relationship with them. The therapists can therefore put the focus more directly on the language each child needs as they grow up, encouraging specific language for aspects of the world (spatial relationships, colours, numbers, etc.) and providing help designing and doing activities that will encourage this. Again this is done against a background of careful monitoring of each child’s language development, and tailoring suggestions and demonstrations of activities to just above their actual level of development so as to stretch them without moving too fast. Vygotsky has called this way of doing things as working within the ‘zone of proximal development’: helping a child do today what they will be able to do alone tomorrow. Get too far ahead of the child and it ceases to make sense; make it too easy, and they will not develop to the next stage. In the middle years programmes, other therapists are also part of the language programme: the music specialist, the computer supported learning specialist, the physiotherapist/occupational therapist and the early intervention teacher. All these therapists work with the Speech language therapist to make the language programme coherent and a proper foundation for success.

Finally, in the transition programme, the focus is on the language of school. Here again, multiple therapists deliver the programme. The Speech and Language Therapist provides to the team information about the child’s stage and needs in language, suggests activities to therapists that will be appropriate, and works with parents to support their language work with their child. Advanced skills of story-telling, of providing “news” in school, of describing a picture, and of playing with language all form part of the programme. So, when children are singing they are developing language; when they are counting their way upstairs they are using language; when they are telling someone about their day, looking at books, or choosing items on a computer programme, they are developing language.

Underlying the entire Champion Centre language programme are the research supported beliefs that:

  1. Comprehension precedes production; so comprehension of language, at every stage, must come before expecting a child to use what they know in speech.
  2. Speech serves language, not the other way round. While some specific games and activities can be developed to help a child with specific sounds, most speech development happens in the act of using language for meaning.
  3. Language serves communication, rather than being an end in itself. Some language work such as rhymes and songs or language play can be seen by an adult as separate language work, but children will see it as communication. Just as well, because if they get wise, they’ll stop cooperating!
  4. Communication serves relationships. Language, important as it is to daily living, is still in the service of relationships, and those relationships must come first and foremost.

Learning language may not be easy, but both research and experience teach us that carefully following the natural progression of language development, and helping children reach each milestone in order is by far the best way to achieve success. We know about language development; parents know their children. Together they form a powerful partnership!

 

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