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Early intervention critical for language delayed


Media Release
For release Thursday 17 August 2006

Early intervention is critical for language delayed children, says Stella Ward, President of the New Zealand Speech-language Therapists’ Association (NZSTA).

An estimated 87,000 New Zealand children under the age of 15 have a speech and language delay.

Speech and language delays can take on many guises. Some children may have unintelligible speech, others can pronounce words clearly but are unable to process language easily and may have difficulty following classroom directions or expressing their ideas.

The challenges are even greater for children with English as a second language, where language delays may not become apparent until a child is seven or eight, or even older.

Chris Bush, a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour at Auckland’s Point England Primary School, says the risk factors for language delayed children are significant.

“Children can experience a range of difficulties such as being unable to access the curriculum, impaired interactions in the class and playground, and an inability to follow instructions and directions.”

Georgia Jensen-Procter, a fellow Resource Teacher of Behaviour and Learning and co-worker at Point England School, says children can become frustrated and isolated, leading to emotional and behavioral difficulties.

“Acting out or becoming withdrawn are common behavioural difficulties. Poor school attendance and other difficulties at school, or in the home or wider community can follow.”

But things are turning around at Point England School, a decile 1A school in Glen Innes with more than 400 students.

In conjunction with the Speech-language Therapy Teaching Clinic at the University of Auckland’s Tamaki Campus, the school began an Outreach Programme in 2005 to target the estimated fifteen per cent of students with serious speech and language needs, and the many more with suspected language delays.

Under the guidance of Speech Language Therapist and Senior Tutor Lucy McConnell, Speech-language Therapy students diagnose and plan appropriate intervention.

“They then work with the children one-on-one or within a class setting, modeling learning interventions that teacher aides and parents can use with the child on a daily basis, and liaise closely with the class teacher,” Mrs Jensen-Procter said.

“The children have increased understanding and confidence to participate in classroom and playground interactions. And parents have noted that there have been positive changes in their children at home.”

Mrs Bush agrees.

“Our parents and caregivers are thrilled with what is happening. They want the best for their children and they are grateful and often hugely relieved that their child is getting this help.

“It has helped some of our parents to realize that their child is not being naughty or lazy, but that the child has a genuine problem.”

Lucy McConnell says the Outreach Programme at Point England School is a success story.

“There is a high need for Speech Language Therapy services at Point England, and we’re pleased to be able to provide those services to families that might otherwise miss out, and to provide extensive clinical experience for our Speech-language Therapy students.”

Ms McConnell says that if parents have a concern about their child’s speech and language, they can contact a therapist directly by visiting the website, or ask their family doctor, Plunket nurse or school for a referral.

“The key message is to act early and not feel uncomfortable about asking for help.”

The NZSTA is holding an Awareness Day on Friday 18 August to raise awareness about speech and language delayed children, and to promote the need for early intervention and improved access to Speech Language Therapists.

New Zealand has a shortage of Speech Language Therapists, but the NZSTA is working hard to promote the profession and lobby the Government for improved public access to its specialist services, Ms Ward said.


New Zealand Speech-language Therapists’ Association Awareness Day
Friday 18 August
The theme is speech and language delayed children.

The New Zealand Speech-language Therapists’ Association (NZSTA) has more than 400 practicing members.

Most Speech Language Therapists (SLTs) practice in health or education. Increasingly, SLTs are moving into private practice.

New Zealand has a shortage of SLTs.

The NZSTA provides professional support and advocacy services for SLTs, including academic programme accreditation and professional regulation.

The NZSTA has a Health Practitioners Competency Assurance Act registration submission before the Government, and is pushing for urgency given the shortage of SLTs in New Zealand.

SLT is a four-year undergraduate degree, or two-year postgraduate degree.

There is a need for more research and understanding of SLT in the New Zealand context.


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