BY THE GHA SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPY TEAM

The above are common experiences of children and young people with speech and language difficulties. Speech and language therapy can make a difference to their lives.

As many as 1 in 10 children or young people may need the services of a speech and language therapist. Speech and language therapists enable children to develop important communication and swallowing skills. For some this may mean a few weeks of work, others may need long-term help. There is a growing awareness of the impact of speech, language and communication needs and that therapy can be effective. As a result, children are being referred at an increasingly young age, often before their second birthday. Children are referred because of a range of concerns:  Parents may worry that their children are not saying many words or they do not seem to understand instructions. Parents may also notice that their children cannot get their words out, their sentences are muddled, or they have trouble saying the sounds in words.  Any of these difficulties may cause the child frustration and it is worth seeking the advice of a speech and language therapist.

Speech and language difficulties can be the result of a number of conditions including autistic spectrum disorder, cleft palate, deafness, developmental language disorder, feeding difficulties, stammering or a voice disorder. Problems with speech and language can impact on children’s access to the school curriculum, and can create a barrier to functioning in everyday activities in the home and community. Research has also shown that children with unresolved communication difficulties are at risk of mental health difficulties, relationships and employment prospects in later life.

Much of what a speech therapist does is based on what happens in typical language development.  We believe that language development depends on strong foundations. The child needs to learn to look, listen, and take turns in a conversation – from these foundations the child will learn to use single words and with time join words in longer utterances. As the child’s vocabulary expands they learn to use words with more accurate speech sounds. By the age of 4, most children are competent communicators. They may make a few mistakes but they can hold conversations with those around them to talk about recent experiences, make jokes, ask questions and make their needs known.   

Children with unresolved communication difficulties are at risk of mental health difficulties.

The team of paediatric speech and language therapists (SLTs) in Gibraltar is based in a new suite of clinics at the Children’s Health Centre. There is an ‘open’ referral system, so parents can request an appointment if they have concerns about their child’s speech and language development, although it is advised that they first talk over their concerns with their GP, health visitor or the child’s teacher. If, after assessment, therapy is recommended, it may be offered in groups or as individual appointments. In both cases we try to work closely with parents who are the people who spend most time with the child. Sometimes parents can join children in the sessions or they are given ideas for activities that they can carry out at home to practice new skills.

Therapy sessions are something that the child should look forward to, so for the younger children, therapy is based around the use of carefully selected and age-appropriate toys and games. With older children we aim to make therapy functional and base the sessions around their interests.  We also believe that language is best learned when the child is having fun.

Therapy sessions are something that the child should look forward to.

Speech and language therapy is an effective intervention in supporting all children with communication difficulties, however the benefits extend beyond speech and language gains and include improvements in social skills, peer relationships, self-confidence and access to learning.