The role of the speech language therapist is to facilitate communication and teach strategies for the child to acquire language including both comprehension and expression. Another task is to improve speech abilities for effective communication to take place. In fact speech therapists world-wide are commonly known as communication therapists.
Although it may be obvious for some, it is significant to point out the differences between speech and language. Children particularly those with hearing loss, have difficulties to acquire a language, let alone to speak. For this reason, early diagnosis of the hearing loss, good quality amplification and early intervention are essential. Together with the speech and language therapist, a lot of effort and practice needs to be done if the child still has not grasped a language. Secondary to this the therapists work on clear speech production. Depending on the child’s preferred mode of communication and preferred language, the therapy sessions occur being it both verbal (speech) or visual (signs) communication.
Besides promoting and monitoring good hearing amplification, during speech therapy sessions, it is indispensable for the speech therapist to keep in mind communication goals. Therapy goals depend on the child’s strengths and weaknesses and every child is very different hence the goals are child specific and need to be very flexible. Ideally total communication is used as it works best for most. This means that both visual and auditory communication strategies are enforced during intervention sessions. Research has taught us that signs enhance production of speech and not the other way round. In fact many parents who have hearing babies opt to teach them baby signing at a very early stage and the results are extraordinary. This should be no less for children with hearing loss.
For sessions to be beneficial it is also crucial to work within a multidisciplinary team; the parents and other family members, school staff such as LSAs and teachers, other professionals involved and last but surely not least the child himself/herself!
The speech therapist can do a lot for children with various degrees of hearing loss, but unless he/she works within a team the outcomes are minimal. It is strongly suggested that parents discuss issues and concerns with their therapist in order to build goals together. They should move forward together in the same direction. At the end of the day the speech therapist’s duty is to provide support to the child and of course the family in order to facilitate successful communication strategies and positive social well-being. Every child is unique and so is the therapy process.
Ms Rita Portelli is a qualified Speech Language Pathologist and Sign Language Interpreter . She completed a Degree in BSc. (Hons) Communication Therapy at the University of Malta and is currently completing a Masters Degree in Disability Studies.