Lessons from Australia: Early intervention with children with Speech Sound Difficulties

Published: 3 Oct 2016

Lessons from Australia: Early intervention with children with Speech Sound Difficulties

Suzanne Churcher is a speech and language therapist (SLT) and lecturer at Portsmouth University. She has recently returned to the UK after five weeks in Australia, a country which is one of the world leaders in research on interventions for children with a primary speech sound difficulty. Her travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship Award, in partnership with Wave Trust.

Speech sound difficulties is a term used to describe difficulties some children have with their speech. Reports of the prevalence of speech sound difficulties are varied at between 1.06% and 24.6%1 but there is agreement that they are one of the most common forms of communication impairmentand have potentially long term implications for children in terms of academic success, and social and emotional wellbeing3, 4. However, although there is a large body of evidence promoting early intervention for the development of speech and language skills for children under the age of four5, 6, 7, intervention specifically for speech difficulties remains underutilised in the UK8.

During her Fellowship, Suzanne, originally from Leicestershire and now living in Gosport, Hampshire, observed researchers and providers in four cities. She visited a broad range of people and institutions, from independent or private Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs, the Australian equivalent of SLTs) and clinics to state health service delivery, universities and researchers. She found that Australian SLPs are using a wider range of evidence-based practice interventions with children of all ages than their UK counterparts, and they are reporting easier access to research.

Highlights from her trip included speaking with PhD students at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales who represented pioneers in the field, and attending the Speech Pathology Australia Conference in Melbourne.

“It was clear that Australian Speech Pathologists face many of the same challenges that we do in the UK, including limited resources and increasing caseloads.  However, what came across very strongly was that intervention specifically for speech, even in young children, was never considered ineffective” – Suzanne Churcher

Since returning to the UK, Suzanne has been reflecting on her experiences and how the lessons learned might influence the services provided by SLTs in the UK. She will also write a report based on her findings. She has been invited to speak about her Fellowship at a number of events, including the Clinical Excellence Network for Speech Difficulties in London and the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice Conference in March 2017.

1.RCSLT, UK, [internet] London (2016).  Available from: https://www.rcslt.org/clinical_resources/developmental_speech/prevalence

2. McCormack, J., McLeod, S., McAllister, L and Harrison, L. J.  (2009).  A systematic review of the association between childhood speech impairment and participation across the lifespan.  International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11(20), 155-170.

3. Law, J., Boyle, J., Harris, F., Harkness, A and Nye, C (1998).  Screening for speech and language delay: A systematic review of the literature.  Health Technology and Assessment, 2 (9), 1-183.

4. Felsenfeld, S., Broen, P.A and McGue, M. (1994).  A 28-year follow up of adults with a history of moderate phonological disorder: Educational and occupational results.  Journal of speech and hearing research, 38, 1091-1107.

5. Bercow, J (2008) Bercow Review of Services for Children and Young People (0-19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs http://www.johnbercow.co.uk/files/Bercow_Report_Final.pdf

6. Field, F (2010) The Foundation Years: Preventing Poor Children Becoming Poor Adults. The report of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances, London: HM Government.

7. Hartshorne, M. (2009). The Cost to the Nation of Children’s Poor Communication, I Can Talk, Issue 2. London: ICAN.

8. Roulstone, S., Wren Y., Bakopoulou, I., Goodlad. S., and Lindsay G. (2012) Exploring Interventions for Children and Young People with Speech, Language and Communication Needs: A study of Practice.  Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219627/DFE-RR247-BCRP13.pdf

Notes to Editors

Contact: suzanne.churcher@port.ac.uk

Wave Trust

Wave Trust aims to make the world safer by breaking damaging, inter-generational family cycles. By bringing together the best of international scientific understanding of both root causes and solutions they are able to create practical, effective action plans to break the cycles of childhood abuse and neglect. Wave Trust is supporting the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust’s Early Years Prevention & Intervention programme of Fellowships with advice, and they will also assist with the dissemination of the resulting recommendations.