I work at Wiimali community health centre providing speech pathology services to kids aged from 0 to about 8 years of age. Most of the time my job is very rewarding as the kids often make progress in a short space of time and so to see them and their parents smile when they say their first words in front of me is priceless. The flow-on effect of helping kids improve their talking also makes me feel it is worthwhile.
Kids that have difficulty with their speech (“articulation”) often have difficulty learning to read, because if they can’t say the sound properly how do they go about sounding out words? This makes it very hard. I also see kids who have a stutter that get teased and bullied, often physically, and are quite traumatised as a result. If you can work on the stutter and get them ‘fixed’ by the time they are at school then you know what a difference you can make.
Working in community health settings can be tricky. Parents are often not around to do the homework, or can’t be bothered. We are limited in what services we can provide these kids, usually a maximum of 10 sessions per year so progress is usually pretty slow unless parents follow up on what we do at home as well.
I have one client who lives with his grandparents as he was removed from both his father and then his mother’s care due to neglect and abuse. He was born addicted to drugs and had seizures for the first few years of his life. He is now 5 and just started kindergarten and you can’t really understand a word he says. I have worked with him since he was 3 and his grandparents do try to do some work with him at home, but they have 5 of their grandkids in their care (all aged under 7) so they don’t have much time. A lot of people are involved in his care. His preschool teachers and early intervention staff, all try to follow up on the homework we ask the parents to do, such as practicing words like ‘snake’ and ‘swim’ in sentences but everyone does the therapy program differently and this can confuse the child. I think the long-term prognosis for this little guy is poor. Although his speech will eventually improve, his reading skills and language skills will be years behind his peers, along with any psychological damage as a result of not being able to speak and be understood in a classroom will be a set back. This will flow-on to how he will go at high school and job prospects. Unfortunately this case is not the exception- this is the norm. Kids living with their parents that complete their homework each session are the absolute rarity unfortunately.
Speech pathology in community settings, although frustrating, is very rewarding too. Working with kids at this age you know that in the cases you do make a difference, you are making a difference that will impact on the rest of their lives.
Story by Barbara