Health: How parents’ first word fears are being tackled by speech therapy

Eli Owen, four, with speech therapist Julie Anstey at The Talking House, in Boston Spa. Picture by Gary Longbottom.
Eli Owen, four, with speech therapist Julie Anstey at The Talking House, in Boston Spa. Picture by Gary Longbottom.
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The long, tense wait for a child’s first word is an exciting time for parents – but what if that word never comes?

Developing the ability to speak is a fundamental part of growth and to a large extent, something we take for granted as we slowly see a young person’s personality blossom.

Eli Owen, four, with speech therapist Julie Anstey at The Talking House, in Boston Spa. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Eli Owen, four, with speech therapist Julie Anstey at The Talking House, in Boston Spa. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

But for the likes of Scholes mum Alison Owen communication milestones became a source of concern as at the age of two, her son Eli not only couldn’t talk but he seemingly couldn’t understand speech or follow commands.

The 37-year-old sought doctors’ advice but struggled to find answers as Eli dropped behind his peers. Two years ago she soon enlisted private help through speech and language experts at The Talking House, in Boston Spa.

She said: “You’re told what to expect when you’re pregnant and there are all these milestones to achieve and you never know what happens if they don’t reach them.

“He couldn’t understand us, he just looked at you blankly. If he wanted a biscuit he would just come into the kitchen and scream until you guessed it right. He wanted to interact but didn’t understand it.”

Eli Owen, four, with speech therapist Julie Anstey at The Talking House, in Boston Spa. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Eli Owen, four, with speech therapist Julie Anstey at The Talking House, in Boston Spa. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Following an assessment at home, Eli, who until that point could only name a few items, strung words together for the first time. Alison said: “It was absolutely unbelievable, we couldn’t believe it – we nearly fell through the floor.”

Having given Eli, now aged four, weekly therapy sessions since, Alison hopes he will live a fairly normal life but feels he may need support growing up.

He is trying to communicate with his peers, can understand speech and follow commands helped by intensive work with Julie Anstey, managing director of The Talking House and speech therapist of 30 years.

But the likes of Eli, with early speech issues, were often written off until speech therapy became a recognised discipline in the 1970s and 80s.

Setting up personalised plans, private and NHS speech therapists assess and support children and adults with a range of conditions, from cerebral palsy to autism and speech sound disorders, to develop communication.

The Talking House works with children, some in schools and some on a private basis, and through strategies like coaching and interactive play, many of Julie’s former clients have flourished. She said: “I’ve had some children whose parents have been told they would never speak and a few years later they are chattering away – that’s such a buzz.”

It is thought one million UK children have some kind of communication difficulty. Such issues, if not addressed, have been linked to literacy, social and emotional problems in later life. Julie added: “The sad thing is if we got to them early enough a lot of these issues can be resolved.”

SPECIALISTS HELPING TO BOOST SPEECH

Speech and language therapists support children and adults with difficulties with communication, eating, drinking and swallowing.

Using specialist skills they work directly with clients and their carers to provide tailored support, while also working closely with teachers and other health professionals.

There are around 12,500 practicing therapists in the UK.

For more on the Talking House visit thetalkinghouse.co.uk or facebook.com/thetalkinghouseyorkshire.

For other resources visit helpwithtalking.com or rcslt.org.

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