Speech and language therapy meets 21st century

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The York Region Preschool Speech and Language Program (YRPSLP) offered through Markham Stouffville Hospital provides help for children from birth to Junior Kindergarten entry who have difficulty learning to communicate or to interact. The program focuses on the prevention, early identification and treatment of speech and language problems.

With about one in 10 children in Ontario needing help developing normal speech and language skills, YRPSLP regularly pursues opportunities to reach parents and families through new and innovative formats. Several years ago, YRPSLP began offering parents/caregivers of children identified with a mild-to-severe articulation delay at their initial assessment, the opportunity to attend a two-hour, parent-only, evening workshop entitled, “Let’s Make Sounds.” The purpose of the workshop was to provide education about typical speech development and articulation delays, the adults’ role in therapy, and a home package tailored to their child’s articulation needs, so parents could start working with their child while waiting one to two months for their treatment sessions to begin. Attendance was high and the course was well-received. For some, this was their only intervention if their child had a mild articulation delay or would age-out of the system due to senior kindergarten entry at school.

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In 2011, parents were still being referred to the “Let’s Make Sounds” course and were agreeing to attend, but the actual attendance at the course began to drop.  This caused the Child Development Programs staff to pause and reflect on the viability of this workshop.

“Where were the parents?” wondered Susan Sheffield, director, Child Development Programs, Markham Stouffville Hospital. “Why were they agreeing to come and then not showing up? How were we going to ensure parents would still receive the intervention, particularly for those parents where this was the only intervention that they would receive, beyond an initial assessment.”

Travel time, a long day of work, transportation issues, tired kids, tired spouses and parents, and the challenge of arranging childcare in the evening were real barriers being faced by parents trying to attend the workshop.

“It became clear to our team that we needed a new solution, one that would take advantage of new technologies available and one that would fit with parents’ busy lifestyles,” Sheffield explains.

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Thanks to one-time funding from The Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the team worked to create an e-learning course based on the material covered in the face-to-face, “Let’s Make Sounds” parent education workshop. Three 30-minute education modules were developed for speech-language pathologists to recommend to parents, after their child had been seen for an initial assessment and articulation concerns were identified. YRPSLP also created four speech sound workbooks to accompany the course for parents to download and use after viewing the course.

“This e-learning format allows parents to watch the course from the comfort of their own home, on their own schedule,” explains Sheffield. “It also affords families the luxury of both parents and other caregivers/family members being able to watch the course, whereas typically only one person was able to attend the face-to-face course due to child-minding duties.”

The e-learning modules were shared with all preschool speech and language programs across Ontario, but evening courses were still being offered, with continued poor attendance, in York Region.  The YRPSLP team knew more could be done to reach these families. The team continued to evaluate the e-learning course with speech-language pathologists, communicative disorders assistants, and, importantly, parents of children who had an initial speech-language pathology assessment within the program. With the financial support of other preschool speech and language programs, simplified speech sound workbooks were created to help parents apply their new knowledge within their day-to-day lives, online demonstration videos were upgraded, and the course became mobile-device friendly.

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For Marie Naro and her four-year-old daughter Mia, the online availability of the learning modules has made all the difference. “It can be a big struggle and stressful to balance work and appointments and caring for your child,” says Naro. Since her birth, Mia has visited several specialists, undergone multiple surgeries and continues to participate in ongoing treatment for health challenges related to talking, eating and feeding, as well as Congenital Vertical Talus, a disorder of the foot.

Naro is one of the parents the YRPSLP team looks to for feedback and input into their programs. She participated in the face-to-face workshops, where she had the opportunity to meet other parents, something that Naro says allowed her to compare her experience to that of others, “to not feel alone and to get ideas.”

Naro has also enjoyed accessing the online resources on her own time and says, “It is nice and refreshing when there’s an alternative available.”

Mia began working with the YRPSLP team following her initial assessment at 15 months old and completed her therapy this April. She continues to succeed in her treatments and Naro is grateful to the YRPSLP team, especially “Miss Lauren” (speech-language pathologist Lauren Rossi) who she says is somebody she’ll never forget.

“There are more good days than hard days,” Naro says. “You can see the happiness in Mia now.”

The e-learning course is now ready to be unveiled to preschool speech and language programs across Ontario. It will be password protected to ensure access to parents who have had a speech-language pathology assessment. For more information please email cdpfamilies@msh.on.ca.

For updates, resources and tips, visit www.childdevelopmentprograms.ca, “like” Child Development Programs (cdpmsh) on Facebook and follow @childdevprogram on Twitter.