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Turia to Speech Therapists Association

Te Kahui Kaiwhakatikatika reo korero o Aotearoa
New Zealand Speech language Therapists Association
Te Papa, Wellington, Thursday 22 April 2010; 9.45am

‘Practice worth spreading’

Hon Tariana Turia, Minister of Disability Issues

Thank you to the President of your association, Dr Megan McAuliffe, and to the organisers of this important conference, for extending the honour of opening this forum to me.

It is a great pleasure to be with you, to officially open your conference as a vital event within the professional development calendar of your sector.

The art of conversation is perhaps one of the greatest skills that a person can master.

Effective communication is a vital means of earning the respect of others. In establishing dialogue with another, connections are made which provide the foundation for an ongoing relationship.

The quality of what we have to say will be determined by our capacity also to listen, and in doing so, to demonstrate we seek to understand and to value not just the ideas but the person behind them.

I was therefore very pleased to accept your invitation to spend some time with some of New Zealand’s leading artists, practitioners, specialists and teachers of the communication field.

I have to admit that I had another agenda for coming; and that was a curiousity about meeting a real live “phoniatric” in person.
And if that didn’t occur, there might be an opportunity over a cup of tea to share the latest developments in “logopaedia” or to discuss the finer points in identifying a case of verbal apraxia or dyspraxia.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there would be very few times in casual conversation that most New Zealanders would discuss these concepts or even understand what they mean.

And yet in glancing through the programme for this conference, it would seem that such terminology is simply part of the practice that characterises your core business as speech language therapists.

It is a language which reflects the specialist vocabulary and the clinical knowledge and practice of the SLT – the speech language therapist.

What I didn’t see on the programme, however, were any workshops specifically focusing on taringa hoi; or caucus opportunities to bring together the Kaiwhakatikatika reo korero which I would also presume to be an essential part of this profession.

And so I am interested in the investment that is made across this Association in cultural competency.

It was of course inspiring, to learn of the name of your Association, Te Kahui Kaiwhakatikatika reo korero o Aotearoa.

I’d love to have an opportunity to learn how this wonderful description of strengthening and nurturing the reo korero - our stories and our knowledge – influences the work you do.

How are your workers supported to ask the right questions, to know when it is appropriate to ask and when it is appropriate to listen?

What attention is given to respecting the culture, customs, language, beliefs and the community context of the families, whanau and caregivers you work with?

The terminology used, the tone adopted in your communication, the effect of your body language, are all critical elements of the profession of speech language pathology.

So what is the practice worth spreading that will influence you at this conference?

Is it the practice of medicalising the way in which we talk about our basic communication?

How do we ensure that all people with communication and or swallowing difficulties benefit from improved quality of life?

What are the golden rules that guide us in knowing how respond to the challenges around human communication, feeding and swallowing?

Do all of us in this room have the confidence to know what to do if we really seek to whakatikatika te reo?

I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s oft quoted comment that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”.

One only has to pick up a teenage’s cellphone to really feel the impact of the limitations around language.

Suddenly six letters - Gr8 Db8 – might be interpreted as the Great Debate; or the acronym LOL will encourage us to ‘laugh out loud’.

But for many of us, the complexity of textese or chatspeak or txt talk is such that it requires enormous effort to even join in the conversation.

Communication can be either the great pathway to a shared understanding, or at the other extreme it can be alienating and leave people out, isolated on the margins of conversation.

In my capacity as the Minister of Disability Issues, I have a longstanding concern about the limitations of a disabling society.

In your everyday work you face the challenge that individuals and families endure, through communication and feeding difficulties.

It may be as evident as in the experience of children who stutter, who mumble, who lisp.

Or in may be far harder to observe, such as the children who withdraw from the classroom chatter; children who may be classified with various states of disorder – conduct disorder; oppositional defiant disorder; personality disorders.

I have to share with you my profound concerns around the way in which too many of our Maori children seem to too easily be categorised as fitting any number of disorders laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

And I have to wonder whether many of these disorders are in actuality, the inevitable consequence of childhood hearing loss having a significant effect on speech and language development.

It would seem that often the solution is straight forward - early detection of hearing loss allows for early treatment, which prevents later social and learning difficulties.

Some suggest that as many as twenty percent of all Maori children are affected by glue ear and that Maori and Pasifika children are much more likely to experience hearing loss than other children. Glue ear is also far more common in boys than girls.

The child who suffers from compromised hearing through conditions such as glue ear will always have difficulty in differentiating between sounds; and may end up on a cycle of perpetual catchup – with achievement lagging behind; and a sense of dislocation or alienation from one’s own social structures.

So when, we hear concerns raised around the performance and achievement of Maori boys, I always wonder what are the factors that have limited that achievement. How are all our children celebrated for the very essence of who they are?

It is vital that we get it right. Inadequate management of glue ear by health services or education facilities has long-lasting impacts on education, and later employment.

The practice worth spreading amongst the profession of speech language therapy must take account of these differences, and work on ways to address diversity and inclusion.

I am interested that one of the current projects of the Association is your application for registration as a health profession under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act.

That Act’s principal purpose is to ensure that health practitioners are competent and fit to practise including by setting standards of clinical competence, cultural competence and ethical conduct.

The ways in which you work with whanau; the communication styles you adopt; the ways in which you listen and learn are all essential elements of a mutually beneficial dialogue.

Whether you are Kaitakawaenga Special Education; working with adults in a hospital or community setting; working in special schools or mainstream schools or working in private practice; the challenge of access and participation in services remains the same.

Issues of income will inevitably be a significant factor. I am aware of the Association’s concerns that a number of families have felt that their child is not severe enough to be eligible for state funded services and so instead have chosen private speech language therapy services.

Quite simply, the option of accessing private practice is not open to a significant group of the people who should be able to access therapist services but lack any discretionary income to purchase specialist support.

We must ensure that the practice worth spreading is a practice of inclusion, of access to all entitlements, to encouraging open communication and information sharing.

It must be a practice in which the way in which referrals are made or caseloads are prioritised recognises the diversity amongst our populations.

I began my address today by stating that the art of conversation is perhaps one of the greatest skills that a person can master.

It stands to reason therefore, that the people in this room must be given the respect and the support that we would expect to come with such a vital part of our social and community life.

I want to thank you for your dedication to the challenge of communication and for the commitment and enthusiasm that brings you along to conferences such as this.

Our communities, our whanau and our families, can benefit in such rich and immeasurable ways, from the knowledge and skills that you are able to share with them.

I wish you all a great two days of quality communication and I look forward to hearing from you, about any of the issues that this forum believes Government must accord attention to.

Tena tatou katoa.


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