Ollie’s story: identifying speech and language needs early
“We were concerned about what the future held for our little boy. Would we ever hear his voice or hear him say mummy/daddy? How will he tell us what he wants and needs? How will he make friends? How will he learn?”
At four years old, Ollie wasn’t talking in the same way as other children his age. He struggled to understand and respond to others, and had difficulty pronouncing simple words, calling his mum and dad ‘ba’ and ‘da’. As Ollie reached school age, his parents became increasingly concerned: “His communication was made up of gestures…When out in the car or at home, you never knew you had a child with you as he was so quiet.”
Worried that Ollie wouldn’t cope at a mainstream school, his parents visited I CAN’s Bill Harrison Assessment Centre, hoping to understand more about his needs. A two-day assessment carried out by a specialist teacher, speech and language therapist and an educational psychologist gave them the answers they had been searching for. The report showed severely disordered receptive and expressive language skills, meaning that both understanding what others are saying, and expressing thoughts and ideas, were very difficult for Ollie. He also showed severe speech sound disorder, meaning that others would struggle to understand him. His language was at the level expected for a two – two-and-a-half-year-old child.
Despite his language difficulties, Ollie showed good non-verbal cognitive ability. He was able to solve problems using visual, or hands-on reasoning. With the right environment and support, Oliver would be able to learn and progress well.
The report recommended that a specialist school focusing on communication would be the right environment for Ollie. Having visited I CAN’s Meath School previously, his parents were hopeful that it could be the right place for him. “One thing stood out which was really important to us; all the children were happy and enjoying their learning. All staff were friendly and the school had a real kind, caring, happy and homely feel to it.” Above all, the children they observed thriving at Meath seemed just like their own son. “Finally, a place he could fit in and be like those around him.”
Ollie was offered a place and began at Meath School in September 2017. He joined a small class where the teachers used language appropriate for his level. Multisensory teaching methods have helped him to learn vocabulary using all his senses, instead of just listening to new words. By using a wide-range of visual supports in the classroom, such as photos, symbols, visual timetables and sign-supported English, Ollie has learned to understand and communicate using more than just speech.
Outside of class, regular group and individual speech and language therapy sessions have helped Ollie to develop his verbal communication. He is also supported by occupational therapy, helping him to process sensory information and improve focus in class.
Two years after starting at Meath, Ollie has made significant progress. He understands a much wider range of words and concepts, can use different tenses, and can label emotions such as happy, sad, and worried. He can now produce almost all sounds correctly in isolation and is beginning to put them together correctly in words. Even when he can’t find the words he needs, he can use sign and mimes to convey his meaning.
This progress in communication has had a wider impact in school and at home. Ollie’s listening and behaviour in class has improved, he shows greater independence, and shows more resilience when he doesn’t understand something.
Having Ollie’s needs identified and supported early has helped his family look forward to a brighter future. “By December 2017, we had the best Christmas present of all, something I had waited 5 years for him to say – ‘mummy’!”…Fast forward to May 2019 and we have seen improvement in Ollie’s speech, language and communication skills. He can tell me about what he has learnt at school through signing and vocally and what’s important to him – mainly about his birthday!”