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Early therapy improves speech and language delays

For release Monday 14 August 2006

Intensive, early therapy improves speech and language delays

Intensive therapy can improve phonological awareness, with dramatic results for speech and language delayed children, says Gail Gillon, Associate Professor at Canterbury University’s Department of Communication Disorders.

“Children with low phonological awareness can’t hear the relationships between sounds and words, which affects their speech and language development and, subsequently, their reading and spelling,” Professor Gillon said.

“Through controlled intervention studies, our research shows that twenty hours of phonological awareness therapy delivered one hour twice weekly for ten weeks can resolve even severe phonological awareness deficits, and can lead to improved reading accuracy, reading comprehension and spelling.”

Professor Gillon estimates that up to 10 per cent of New Zealand children have a spoken communication difficulty of some form, in the absence of known causes such as hearing loss or cognitive impairment.

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 individual and social cost can be high.

Children with speech and language impairment are four to five times more likely to experience persistent reading difficulties. There is a raft of secondary consequences from literacy and learning difficulties, to social, emotional and behavioral difficulties that become prevalent as children get older.

Intensive Speech and Language Therapy at an early age can stop the cycle.

“For children with mild or more moderate impairment their underlying difficulties can be completely resolved through early intervention, even before they start school,” Professor Gillon said.

“Children with more severe deficits are likely to need ongoing monitoring and intervention during their early school years.”

Stella Ward, President of the New Zealand Speech Therapists’ Association (NZSTA), says Speech and Language Therapists are the only professionals with the knowledge and expertise to help language delayed children.

“There are two things we know for sure: early intervention is critical and that intensive therapy, supported in the home, can turn the lives of these children around.”

The issue is getting access to the funding required to place Speech Language Therapists alongside teachers in the classroom to deliver these and other intensive therapy programmes.

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 and 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 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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