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Wicklow woman sets up revolutionary service for children with speech and language difficulties

A Wicklow professional Senior Speech and Language Therapist has launched a brand new initiative for children with speech difficulties to access speech and language therapy in Ireland as waiting lists for speech and language therapists hit an all-time high.

The advent of COVID has put immense pressure on a system which is already over-stretched resulting in an estimated 45,000 children now on waiting lists for Speech and Language Therapy.

Kate Beckett from Wicklow Town has set up ‘Optima Speech Therapy’, a totally new and unique service that offers parents a progressive way of accessing speech and language therapy. Utilising tailored programmes, targeted activities and exercises are completed at home by parents and their children in the comfort of their own home.

Like so many other professionals, COVID was the lightening rod that spurred Kate to establish ‘Optima Speech Therapy’, as she was determined to offer parents an easy, interactive, and cost-effective way of accessing speech and language therapy for their children. She was acutely aware that the Pandemic served to exacerbate an already high demand for speech therapy.

She says “The Pandemic has changed the way we live, and many medical services have had to adapt to provide remote service delivery. I felt an alternative approach for delivering speech and language therapy needed to be available too. Many people do not realise there is an optimal ‘window’ to address the needs of children requiring speech therapy, referred to as early intervention. As a mother myself, I was determined to address this with new and creative programmes which were easy to fit into busy lives, cost effective and very importantly, engaging. It got me thinking about my experiences working as a speech therapist in New Zealand, and what I learned was that although conventional face-to-face therapy is the gold standard, is not always available or necessary. Getting help to address the areas of concern as soon as possible is, in many cases, the determining factor for the successful outcome of any therapy. Early intervention is crucial. That’s what prompted me to start Optima Speech Therapy.”

Kate says “As a speech and language therapist one of my main concerns is around the timing of therapy. Methods and techniques may vary slightly between therapists, but we all agree that early intervention is key. The earlier a speech and language difficulty is addressed, the less long-term impact it should have on a child. By impact I am referring to academic and social skills acquisition. Literacy development is hugely dependant on both speech and language skills for learning how letters represent speech sounds. In fact, it now appears that some children are showing signs of regression due to reduced social contact and little interaction with friends as a direct impact of COVID. With this goal in mind, I was inspired to establish a new service. It is revolutionary in that it is immediately available for parents, with my constant professional guidance and support. Specifically focusing on children with mild-moderate difficulties, I was inspired to establish a new web accessed service. It is revolutionary in that I can rapidly review assessments as they are uploaded. I then create a tailor-made programme which provides an interactive solution for children, with the assistance of parents, all of which is regularly monitored by myself. Feedback and reviews from clients indicate that positive results can be noticeable in a short period of time”.

“The beauty of my new service is its accessibility and the ease with which speech therapy can be started. It’s ideal for so many people as it is just so convenient which is important for busy parents. I was determined to develop a highly flexible programme so busy parents can fit it into their routine. They are not missing work; they don’t have to get a babysitter for siblings, and it is also giving them back control and the skills they need to help their child. For those with limited local access to speech and language services, it can assist in avoiding long commutes and additional transport costs. There is no special equipment required, and payment for assessment and the programme is split. The children themselves don’t have to miss out on school travelling to clinic appointments. The child is also in his or her home and this familiarity gives an added layer of confidence. Children benefit from ‘little and often’ and my programmes are only fifteen minutes a day which really suits the shorter attention span of children”.

The service teaches parents to help their children at home under Kate’s support and professional guidance. She has developed easy to follow, simple, targeted programmes which include games that are played on a daily basis so the child will learn without even realising it!

“It is a simple, child friendly service and this is so important. The assessment process is easy – parents film their child having a go at the tasks I set out and send me the videos using the secure file transfer system that I provide. I have created a little character called Ziggy who helps the children do the tasks and makes it fun. Using these results, I individually create a programme for each child depending on his or her unique needs. They use games and activities to teach the child the skills we are targeting in a fun way, so they don’t even realise they are learning! Parents work through the programme step-by-step with full support from me, and there is a mini-assessment every two weeks so I can monitor progress and help guide the programme”.

Kate says “These are the same skills parents are taught during face-to-face sessions. Although programmes are home based, I offer ongoing support every step of the way. I strongly believe the results are much better if parents understand how to help their child, and that is what my programmes offer”.

“I offer individualised programmes that meet each child’s particular needs. My service is really unique in that I work remotely with parents providing programmes made up of fifteen minute exercises that are done daily at a time that works for the family. My experience has shown that it can be incredibly stressful for parents to work around set clinic times, children might have to miss school or activities, parents are juggling work or other family commitments and the end result can be that they are starting their session already stressed, and as you can imagine this doesn’t bode well for good results. I also check in with parents regularly to ensure the programme is working well for all and to help them with any issues they may have. I know that starting off, it can be quite overwhelming for parents as well as children, so it’s vital they know I’m here to help”.

Kate is heartened by the response her new service is receiving from parents in Wicklow and surrounding areas.

“The response from parents has been incredible. They have been waiting for a service like this and are embracing the new format. When it comes to enthusiasm who could be more motivated to help their child than a parent? Indeed any speech clinic will follow the same steps to educate parents about their child’s difficulty and will give ‘homework’ for parents to do at home following the therapy session. My approach offers this in a formalised structure providing a dedicated education pack, which is designed to provide the same benefits to all the children so badly in need of help”. 

“I am passionate about helping children and I feel it makes sense to use my skills to help make therapy more accessible, available, and at a reasonable cost”.

“In addition, I have a growing YouTube channel, Optima Speech Therapy, which offers free tutorials for parents doing speech therapy at home including exercises to help children that are late talkers, have a speech delay or a language disorder. To date, the production of paediatric Irish speech therapy resources has been little explored. To address this I have created speech sound videos with an Irish child model on my channel so that children have an accurate accent to learn from. Additionally, my channel also includes DARA in both an Irish and British accent. DARA (Digitised Automated Realistic Articulator) is a child avatar I developed that shows children how to make the consonant speech sounds we need to speak in English. DARA helps children to understand how their tongue moves to make the different speech sounds. I have also set up a support group for parents on Facebook, SPEECH AND LANGUGE THERAPY SUPPORT IN IRELAND, which is free and a platform for parents to support each other with tips and advice too”.

www.optimaspeechtherapy.com

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