Aspiring to greatness – the journey of a student SLT
Before I went to Dawn House School to do some work experience, I remember having a conversation with a family friend about speech and language therapy and it immediately captured my interest. My mum gave me I CAN’s ‘Communications Cookbook’ and I was fascinated to find out about how children and young people’s needs could be supported. I had watched some videos of Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) working with children and saw the significant results that were being made and it was amazing to see! I knew from then that working with children and adults with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) would be something that I wanted to pursue in my further education and eventually my career.
Whilst I was at sixth form, I decided to spend my Wednesday afternoon’s volunteering at a school for children with additional needs near where I live in Chesterfield. It was great to see how staff and specialist therapists engaged with pupils who required extra attention. I came across a few SLTs there and was fascinated with their work, approach and skill set.
It was in 2012/13 when I was in sixth form that my mum was involved with I CAN as a trustee and she was aware of my interest and put me in touch with Jenny McConnell (Principal at I CAN’s Dawn House School). Jenny was so supportive and arranged for me to have a few days work experience at Dawn House, to see how it all works inside a specialist education setting. This was my first proper experience of seeing a therapist ‘in action’ and I understand that many of my peers would not have seen this prior to be on the course. I remember shadowing one of the SLT’s doing an oral motor activity with students and it opened my eyes to other parts of the career that I didn’t know existed. I don’t think people see SLT’s as having such a hands on job and indeed, to some extent, neither did I. Upon reflection, I really valued the time with the staff as it gave me a full picture of how they work with pupils and tailor support for the individual.
When it came to start pulling my personal statement together for University, I was happy to have so much experience already to draw upon and it really helped me to choose to study Speech and Language Therapy. I got my place at De Montfort University and was really excited to get ‘stuck in’. I was aware even at this early stage, the fragility of the sector and the lack of awareness surrounding SLCN, particularly with regards to funding. My cohort in 2015 was the last to be completely funded by the NHS and it did and continues to worry me about the future provision available. As I become more aware about the wider impact of SLT’s and the geographical imbalance of provision, I do often worry about what the future holds for people who have communication needs.
Where I currently volunteer, at a company called BearHugs, we share an office with a group of ladies at Bright Futures who work with families to support them in obtaining the Education, Health and Care Plan and provision their child needs, and from that perspective I am very much aware of how uneven the state of affairs is! It is definitely a reality check and gives me an insight into the day to day family perspective. With resources being short, I see professionals trying their best but not always being able to support families as much as they would like, which is very sad.
I am now in my second year of studies and am on placement in a nursery, which is a fantastic environment to learn and practice my skills. At the moment I am pretty keen to work with children when I graduate but I know there is so much choice! I still haven’t completely made up my mind on a particular speciality as each time I learn about new areas, I think ‘I would love to do that too!’.
In my placement at the moment we are delivering I CAN’s Early Talk Boost as well as using the Talking Point website as a regular resource. We are now in Week 5 of Early Talk Boost with a group of students on my placement and we can already see the children’s communication improvement, which is amazing. What is even more exciting is seeing the students improving their turn taking, sharing and socialising skills that obviously all require communication, and to see this progress as a result of the programme is eye opening! The children love Jake and Tizzy and ask us ‘When is Tizzy Time!’ We were trained by one of our tutors on the SLT programme at DMU and now we are delivering it into settings, which as a second student is great to have under your belt before you graduate!
Thinking about the future of my career and the sector, I see the role of organisations like I CAN and The Communication Trust being crucial. It seems illogical to me not have more funding for these areas, when there is clear evidence that shows children and young people’s communication needs are not being met. Early intervention for children with SLCN is vital and can really change their lives, this is particularly highlighted within The Bercow Report of services for children with SLCN in 2008. In addition, the facts and figures around young offenders is huge; this is clearly presented in Byran’s report in 2007 that over 60% of young offenders have SLCN. There is absolutely a need to support those young people who have SLCN who are in the youth justice estate, as they may not have the language or communication skills to understand what is happening as they go through the justice system, as well as accessing treatment and rehabilitation.
In my view, it makes so much sense to support earlier to minimise the issues later in people’s lives and help them to reach their potential.