Evidence Based Practice in action at I CAN’s Meath School

At I CAN’s Meath School we are passionate about delivering the very best service we can and enabling our pupils who have severe and complex speech and language needs to achieve and learn to the very best of their ability. As a speech and language therapy department we live and breathe evidence based practice knowing that this is vital in ensuring pupils get the best and most effective therapy provision. As therapists we regularly read research articles and sometimes wonder how much certain studies relate to the particular group of pupils that we work with.

So a couple of years ago we decided that we would bite the research bullet and carry out our own research project on a specialist approach that we were using with our pupils. We were supported in this by Professor Tim Pring from City University, who was incredibly generous in giving up his time to lead us gently through the hows and whys of randomised control trials and making clear the confusing world of statistics. Finally, after much discussion, planning and gnashing of teeth, we carried out the project which looked at how effective semantic therapy was in developing word finding skills in our group of primary aged pupils.

We were delighted when the results showed that the therapy approach was indeed effective and we were very proud to have our write up of this study published in a recognised journal ‘Child Language Teaching and Therapy’. Even more pleasing was seeing the pupils in the school using the strategies we taught them.

The semantic therapy approach we used involves saying what you know about an object and learning new things about the object. In everyday conversation this can prompt you to remember the word for the item; it also gives clues to the listener, so that they know what it is you are thinking about and wanting to say. It has been great fun playing all sorts of games to practice these skills such as ’20 Questions’ … ‘What category is it in?’, ‘What is it like?’, ‘Where do you find it?’, ’What does it do?’, ‘What sound does the word begin with?’ Whether playing games with a child on her own, or playing games as part of the whole class it is wonderful to see the children having fun being ‘detectives’ and guessing the correct answer.

Children also play games to see who can give the ‘best clues’ so that others can guess the object quickly: “an animal that jumps (and begins with ‘k’)?”, “a vehicle in the sky (that has wings)?”. It is so exciting to see the children get better at these games and enjoy them with their friends, and even more exciting when we see them use the same ‘clues’ to help when they are talking to you and cannot remember the word!

Whether it is the statistics showing that the children’s skills were better at the end of our research project, or a child being happily able to say or explain what she wants to tell you, our speech and language therapy provision based on our own evidence base is positive all round!